Photo by Kelly Sikkema on Unsplash

It’s time to think radically about parental leave equality

“There’s every reason to want men’s parental leave to be a mirror of women’s parental leave. And there’s every reason to believe it will never happen” according to Girard Dorney, HRM Online article last month Parental Leave for Men is a Great Thing We May Never Get Right.

Whilst Dorney evidences compelling reasons why men and women should be treated equally by business, government and society when it comes to taking time out to share in the caring their children, the reality is we don’t have an equal playing field – not by a long shot.

The article’s core point is based on evidence which suggests that care-taking impacts significantly on career prospects and pay progress. The stark statistics presented show what we already know - it is mostly women who take leave to have children and it is women whose earnings dramatically decrease and never fully recover. The result; well, it doesn't provide much upside or incentive for men, often relied on as the breadwinner, to take break from work to care for their newborns.

And yet, the research argues that men, and their families, benefit significantly when they do indeed take leave to share the care.

"The total number of paternity leave days taken positively correlates with fathers’ life satisfaction. This implies that it is not just the distribution of leave days within a couple that matters, but also the absolute number of days that the father takes.

Think about it. Happiness, health, more cohesive families and gender equality are all things our culture values and are all connected to male parental leave. So why is it still just a perk and not a cultural value itself?”

HRM Online


The question is what are the barriers to more men taking parental leave?

Mostly it's about perceptions that no longer belong in our workplaces or society - stigmas such as 'kids = career killer' or ‘it’s a woman’s job to primarily care for children' or ‘productivity is dependent on desk time rather than actual output'. But it runs deeper, it’s goes to the heart of masculinity, how we judge men and their role in society as leaders not carers.

This article rather dismally suggests the road blocks that might prevent men from taking more leave may never change.

Some research suggests approximately 1 in 2 fathers don’t know they are even eligible for parental leave in workplaces that do offer a leave benefit, nor would they be confident to take it up.

But some organisations are determined to make sure more men in their workplace take parental leave and work flexibly - and they're leading loudly and proudly on the issue.

APLEN – the Advancing Parental Leave Equality Network – was launched in February 2019 uniting employers with advocacy groups and policy makers. Its mission; to reform parental leave in Australia to ensure men and women are provided with equal opportunity to share the care and be encouraged to use it.

APLEN member organisations QBE Insurance, Deloitte and Medibank have already created parental leave policies aimed at making leave more accessible, more flexible to use and most importantly, more equal. These organisations have removed the reference to primary and secondary carer and created one 'inclusive' parental leave policy - both men and women are offered the same leave benefit and can share the care with their partners how and when suits them.

Their case study examples say it all – ‘good for our people, good for our business’.

Medibank reported an immediate lift in men using its new parental leave scheme once it announced an equal benefit from 2% to 21% in just six months after the introduction their new approach.

For global organisations like Spotify - the results speak for themselves. When it launched its world-leading global parental leave equality policy in 2015 and offered 7 months paid leave to men and women, its ability to attract talent skyrocketed, it now boasts thousands of people apply to work for them every month. Perhaps surprisingly, Spotify report that more male employees use their parental leave benefit than female employees.


Who said fathers don’t want to take parental leave?

Family friendly, gender-inclusive progressive policies give people the chance fulfil their career potential and contribute more fully to family life - nothing need be sacrificed for the business or the individual when everyone shares the caring.  The organisation looks after its people and their people appreciate and value their employer = retention, loyalty, productivity, perspective, gender balance.  It's win-win if we look at the longer term benefits and cost savings.

The case for action is clear.

It’s time for a radical shift towards parental leave equality.


For more information or to join the APLEN network visit the website.

By Emma Walsh, Parents At Work CEO Parents At Work


Parents At Work CEO, Emma Walsh, is leading a panel discussion at NEEOPA in Sydney next week on this very topic. For more details visit the NEEOPA website here. Emma will be joined by a panel of experts including our Aussie Dads dad (and new father of 5) Alex Laguna from Better Dads.