Stand up Australia. Our working mums and dads deserve better – 1 in 2 mothers and 1 in 4 fathers experience discrimination in the workplace

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An astounding and worrying statistic emerged last week from the National Survey conducted as part of the Pregnancy and Return to Work National Review. 1 in 2 mothers and 1 in 4 fathers experience discrimination in the workplace.

Equally astonishing is the perceived lack of outrage expressed in the media – in fact, there’s been barely any follow up after the initial headlines aired in the mainstream news. Why is this?

If we follow recent history of discrimination faced by footballers on the field or other media personalities, the news coverage for the story can last for days until the perpetrator is named and shamed. Shaming here isn’t the point (awareness and change are) but it does highlight how inconsistent our values and standards can be. Ordinary mums and dads face discrimination every day – at a stage in their lives when many are vulnerable both emotionally and financially. These parents are expected to juggle it all and suffer in silence as they raise our next economy-boosting generation and future leaders (who will, let’s not forget, be tackling our looming aged care crisis).

This issue is far too important to be dropped – the silence must be lifted which is why it’s imperative we make the statistics count while they are fresh.

So, to reiterate – 50% of today’s mothers are experiencing workplace discrimination. These aren’t mothers from two generations ago, when awareness was low and laws were non-existent. This is happening right now. For fathers the figure sits at 27% (also astounding considering the majority take less than 4 weeks for parental leave).

The survey

The Review included an Australia-wide national consultation process and two national surveys. One survey looks at women’s perceived experiences of discrimination in the workplace as a result of their pregnancy, request for or taking of parental leave, and their return to work following parental leave. The second survey looked at experiences of fathers and partners that have taken time off work to care for their child under the ‘Dad and Partner Pay’ scheme.

Findings

The most commonly reported discrimination for mothers occurred during:

  • Return to work (35%)
  • Requesting or on parental leave (32%)
  • During pregnancy (27%)

For fathers:

  • During parental leave (20%)
  • Return to work (17%)

The Review found the following forms of discrimination most prevalent:

  • Negative attitudes and comments about breastfeeding or working part-time or flexibly
  • Being denied requests to work flexibly
  • Threatened with or experienced dismissal or redundancy
  • Reductions in salary
  • Missing out on training and professional development
  • Missed promotional opportunities
  • Health and safety related discrimination

The impact on parents

The Review found that 84% of mothers experienced a significant negative impact on one or more of the following:

  • Mental health (increased stress, reduced confidence and self-esteem)
  • Physical health
  • Career and job opportunities
  • Financial stability
  • Families

Specifically 42% of women reported that the discrimination had a financial impact on them and 41% felt it impacted on their career and job opportunities. Many women either left the workforce altogether or changed employer due to the discrimination.

For fathers 61% reported a negative impact on their mental health, 42% reported that it had a negative impact on their families and 37% said that this had a negative financial impact.

The impact on organisations

Sex Discrimination Commissioner, Elizabeth Broderick comments: “The major conclusion we can draw from this data, is that discrimination has a cost – to women, their families, to business and to the Australian economy and society as a whole.”

The sad fact is the majority of women who experience discrimination do not make a formal complaint (only 8% made a formal complaint within their organisation) resulting in a third of women looking for another job or resigning.

This doesn’t just impact on families but also employers who lose valuable talent, sometimes without a full understanding of why. If productivity efficiency and employee retention are primary goals it makes good business sense for organisations to get on board early with addressing parent related discrimination.

Though the evidence may point out how far we have to go on this issue Commissioner Broderick also emphasized that during the consultations there were a number of employers already implementing ‘dynamic and leading strategies to overcome the challenges and support employees’.

Whilst it’s crucial to recognise the costs and inefficiencies of discrimination it’s also important to learn from those organisations doing the right thing.

Lochiel Crafter, Senior Managing Director, State Street Global Advisors comments: “State Street is committed to supporting women and working parents in the workplace; we believe that maintaining a culture of diversity and inclusion is key to helping our employees feel valued and our business succeed. This training demonstrates our commitment to retaining and developing our people by providing parents returning to work with all of the information and support they need to excel in their roles.” 

The good news is, now that we have the evidence to support what’s happening in Australian workplaces, employers can create tighter strategies and lead the way with more enlightened practices to help reduce the occurrence and impact of discrimination. What’s more, we can use these findings to hone in on the organisations doing the right thing and hold them up as an example of best practice to help guide and inspire others to do the same.

What can be done? 

Best practice organisations are talking, they are implementing family friendly policies and practices, and they are conscientiously starting to shift the negative cultural influences around the issue.

It’s those proactive organisations we celebrate at Parents@Work (sister organisation to Mums@Work) and we’d love to hear more about those doing their best to reduce discrimination – send us a comment and we’ll share your brilliance here.

In the meantime here are our top tips on how to create a family friendly workplace free from discrimination:

For another 5 tips – get your free e-book ‘10 Tips to Creating a Family Friendly Flexible Workplace’ (click on the red button ‘Subscribe + Free E-book’)

The Review’s findings highlight why Parents@Work do what we do. Balancing a career with starting a family can be one of, if not, the most challenging balancing acts a working parent faces. To make it work parents need the support of their employer and colleagues. Thankfully, there are resources – like the Parents@Work Portal™ – and educational sessions – like the Career After Kids Forum – that can help organisations, managers and parents prepare and navigate the most challenging transitions.

Click on the relevant link for more information on the Parents@Work ProgramParents@Work Portal™ or Career After Kids Forum.

For the initial report visit the Human Rights Commission website.

A final report and recommendations of the National Review will be released by mid 2014.

We hope you’ll join us in our endeavour to advocate and push for change to create more family friendly and discrimination free workplaces.

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