Why Forward-Thinking Employers are Paying Attention to Gender-Based Research – and what Parental Leave has got to do with it.


Landmark research released last week by the University of Sydney revealed a number of insights about the future of work and how workplaces will need to adapt.


2,100 working women, 500 working men aged and 53 Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander working women between the ages of 16 and 40 Australia wide were surveyed. 39% of these women had at least one dependant child. This is what they said:


The business case for action

  • 90% of women either feel flexibility at work is either very or fairly important to them however 61% currently feel they actually have access to it.
  • 31% of women and 50% of men feel that women and men are treated equally at work
  • 90% of women and 86% of men think women having access to the flexibility they need is important
  • 84% of women and 75% of men said paid leave for women to have and care for family was important
  • 81% of women and 76% of men said having a partner who shares responsibility with them for childcare and household domestic work was important


Empowering employees to determine how, when and where they structure and perform their role so they can manage work and family demands benefits everyone – the business, their colleagues, their family – but only if workplaces can support agile working adequately, especially important during critical life stage changes such as starting a family.


Progressive organisations have recognised these key employee life stages exist,  and they are responding by designing employee engagement initiatives that rise up to meet their employees’ changing personal and professional needs more effectively.


Take starting a family for instance, the financial and emotional changes in an employee’s life when they become a parent is significant – the employee feels the crunch – there’s less time, more expenses and more responsibilities to juggle.


Employers are grappling with ‘what do we need to do to understand the gap  during this life stage?’ ‘How does family impact women and men at work and at home?’ ‘What can we do more off to ensure the gender inequality gap in our workplace doesn’t widen when employees start a family?’


Understanding The Gap – The ‘Parental Leave’ Issue (Australia’s Current Reality)


Parental leave impacts greatly on a parent’s long term career (particularly for women since they still dominant the primary caring role) and how they work day-to-day. Here are some facts about the current state of play in Australia . . .


  • Australia offers the least funded Government Paid Parental Leave Scheme amongst the OCED countries at just 7.6 weeks full-time equivalent pay.
  • Less than 50% of WGEA gender equality reporting organisations offer Employer Funded Paid Parental Leave.
  • Over 50% of WGEA reporting organisations do not provide Employer Funded Paid Parental Leave provisions to employees. Meaning most new dads can rely only on the Government Paid Parental Leave of 18 weeks minimum wage and Dads and Partner (2 weeks minimum wage) to tap into any paid leave – most of which is taken in total by the mother, leaving little or no opportunity for the father to take primary parental leave.
  • Mothers are still doing the heavy lifting when it comes to parental leave – over 95% of mothers access Primary Carers Leave. Mothers are still the most discriminated minority group in the Australian workplace with 1 in 2 experiencing a form of personal or career discrimination due to their family situation.
  • Just one in 50 Australian fathers (2%) take paid parental leave according to OECD data. The Government Dad and Partner Pay scheme is also under-utilised with approximately 1 in 3 dads taking it up.
  • There is still a strong gendered subtext of work in Australia where “men should live up to standards of the ‘ideal worker’ – with intense job devotion, heavy workload, long hours and take as little leave from work as possible” and “mothers are primarily responsible for children and unreliable as workers.” (Professor Linda Haas, March 2018)
  • 1 in 4 fathers (27%) are discriminated against during pregnancy or the return to work period (Pregnancy and Return to Work National Review, Human Rights Commission, 2014)
  • Furthermore, the healthcare service gears its support and educational services towards primarily mothers with little educational transition support and literature provided to new dads via GP’s hospitals and Gynaecologists.


The conflict of managing work and family life experienced by parents is costing the Australian economy $23 billion a year according to a landmark study in 2016.


Bridging the gap between what employees are needing and what many employers are doing


It’s about getting two fundamental supports in place –


  • Providing adequate parental leave support – through the entire transitional phase from pregnancy through to returning to work – for both males and females.
  • Having a flexible mind set around job design and operational support in consideration of the employee, their colleagues, managers and the overall business imperatives


In addition to the recent Women and The Future of Work research there are a number of employers and nations actively offering or working towards such supports.


A prime example is Sweden. Sweden was the first country in the world to replace maternity leave with parental leave, in 1974. Now, 40 years on, fathers take roughly 25 per cent of the total number of days available to the couple with 88% taking some part of the parental leave. The average Swedish Dad takes 3 months of parental leave. As cited from Professor Linda Haas (an expert on all things Parental Leave in Sweden) Sweden has an ‘exemplary legal framework’. They have:


  • Equality law – men and women should equally share domestic and care work.
  • Employment law – employers must facilitate men’s ability to combine work and parent
  • Insurance law – fathers have a non-transferable right to 3 months parental leave at 90-100% of their salary (plus an additional 4 months to share with their partner). The Government pays 80% of this parental leave with employers/unions stepping up in recent years to pay the remainder.


When it comes to employer examples of best practice the landscape is a little scarce, however, we appreciate there is some movement in the right direction.


The University of Sydney recently introduced the ‘Right to HAVE’ flexibility (as opposed to the legal requirement of ‘Right to REQUEST’) – which is in line with the “all roles flex” starting to emerge in other organisation’s policies. Private health insurance provide HCF recently started paying super on unpaid parental leave periods.


Small-medium size enterprises are giving the family friendly workplace initiatives a go too showing others it’s not just big corporate with the cash who can attract talent. Sydney-based job placement business INS have an on-site free childcare, travelling nannies for interstate projects and flexible work arrangements with ‘reduced hours a must’.


Forward-Thinking Employers are Paying Attention to Gender-Based Research – because it makes sense


These organisations and nations are paying attention to the gender-based research because it offers key insights into what their talent need to be productive, engaged and best-self employees.  The research is telling them clearly that both women and men want and need support with managing work-life integration. It’s telling them that both women and men know flexibility plays a major part in making work-life integration beneficial for their career and home responsibilities. It’s telling them that employees give their all and produce results when they feel supported and heard. It’s telling them that it’s good for business all round.


So, if your organisation is aiming for Employer of Choice for the millions of talented working parents and carers in Australia we encourage you to:


  • Proactively engage more men to share the care and take primary carer’s parental leave
  • Normalise flexible working in your workplace
  • Focus on culture not policy – get innovative, promote a change in attitude (flexible mind set) and job design (flexible operations)


This will undoubtedly have a significant impact on closing the gender gaps – for women at work and men as carers.


“Regardless of how dads were classified (as “egalitarian, divided or traditional” in their parenting role) in the 2017 Boston College Center for Work & Family’s Study: The New Dad: The Career-Caregiving Conflict, researchers found that ALL working dads want more time with their children.  And that is across all generations, from Millennials to Gen X to Baby Boomers.”  Workplace Care


Just as women want the opportunity to excel in their career, men want the opportunity to be the best possible parent they can be. Support women and men to be all that they can be and they will deliver.


It’s a simple equation of mathematics –


Gender Equality for All = Supported, fulfilling home-life + Supported, fulfilling work-life


For this equation to work it needs to be true for both men and women. We each have a role to play in this – as individuals, managers, partners, employers, policy makers and colleagues. It’s the way forward for gender equality – together.