The bad news that motivates us even more: parental leave progress stalled

The case for more equal parental leave is clear.
In the picture: Andrew Scerri
Photographer : Johan Bävman

WGEA have just released their latest Gender Equality Scorecard for 2017-2018, and it’s not great news – especially for parental leave equality. As we look back on five years of equality progress in Australia, there are some wins and there are definitely some losses.

“There are a few problem areas. Access to parental leave has ground to a halt.”

Libby Lyons, Australia’s gender equality scorecard (WGEA), 2017-2018.

The data collected around parental leave is showing a dismal situation when it comes to ‘shared care’ – the average length of paid secondary carer’s leave offered is 1.6 weeks. Not only that, but women account for 94.9% of all primary carer’s leave utilised with men accounting for only 5.1%. Overall, women account for 72.2% of all carer’s leave while men comprise the remaining 27.8%.

Employers are showing more support for flexible work, which is fantastic – more have a policy or strategy for flexible working (70.7%) – but only 5.2% have set targets for employee engagement. Further positive news is that employer focus on gender equality increases, with almost 75% of employers having an overall gender equality strategy or policy – but only 31.4% have implemented KPIs for managers relating to gender equality outcomes.

When you labour tirelessly for better parental leave access in Australia, to support our working mums and dads, and strive for more equal opportunities for both men and women when it comes to balancing work and family, these figures are disheartening to say the least.

To learn that Paid Parental leave progress has stalled …  it makes me ask what’s going on? How on earth is this possible given the business case for action is so clear – and flexible work continues to be mainstreamed across so many Australian workplaces? You can listen more about the major changes Medibank have implemented here, as they lead the way in parental policy progress and flexible work arrangements.

At the moment, overall, Australia provides the least generous paid federally funded PL scheme in the world compared to its OECD peers.

Less than 50% of working parents have access to any employer funded parental leave scheme and most of those are designed and built with solely the mother in mind. Dads, it seems, don’t see themselves as eligible, or think it’s too hard to participant in. Or they simply believe that taking parental leave is too much of a career killer to contemplate (with 1 in 4 dads experiencing discrimination at this transitional period of life, it’s easy to see why they’d think that!).

Major cultural and societal changes are needed to change this – and the other issue of the pay gap won’t be fixed if we don’t start to share parental leave equally, and back our Australian fathers as equal care-givers. Sadly, it’s a fact that when a woman has a baby and takes time out to raise her child, her pay opportunities diminish and pay gap widens. This isn’t right – we know this – but there are clear actions that we can take, as both employers and caregivers to right this situation.

So as much as this news frustrates me, I’m thankful for Libby Lyons and WGEA for highlighting the urgent need for action on improving shared parental leave, as well as wider caring provisions that benefit both men and women caring for children, and the elderly. We know what we can do – let’s get on and do it.

Emma Walsh

CEO Parents At Work

Check out our Parental Leave Equality White Paper to see what action you can take in your workplace.