A giant leap: Major Australian law firm takes on parental leave equality

A giant leap: Major Australian law firm takes on parental leave equality

parental leave
Law firm Baker McKenzie are placing themselves ahead of the family-friendly curve with new changes to its parental leave policy.

It has become the first law firm in Australia to announce gender-equal parental leave. As of July 1 2019, the company is removing the definitions of ‘primary carer’ and ‘secondary carer’ from its policy.

All eligible employees who welcome a new child will be entitled to 18 weeks paid leave (including superannuation), regardless of whether there is another parent at home.

Further, employees will now have up to two years from the birth or adoption of a child to take their paid parental leave, rather than 12 months.

“Gender neutral parental leave policies help us move away from ‘women having babies’ to ‘people raising families’,” Anne-Marie Allgrove, Chair of Baker McKenzie’s Diversity and Inclusion Committee, says. “We know that men want to share the load, and want to spend more time with their children.  These changes make it easier for them to do so.”

The legal industry has come a long way in recent years in seeking to promote equal opportunities for success to both men and women, but still lags behind other industries in family-friendly policies and workplace culture.

National Managing Partner at Baker McKenzie, Anthony Foley, recognises the importance of this endeavour.

“We know that gender neutral parental leave policies play a significant role in the uptake of caring roles by men and women, and better reflect the needs of our people and their families,” Foley says. “We are committed to improving gender equality both within our firm, and the communities within which we serve.”

Baker McKenzie’s move on parental leave paves the way for other law firms striving for gender equity and family-friendly cultures. The firm has focused on parental leave equality in the last 18 months, working with advocacy and consulting organisation Parents At Work to host not-for-profit Parental Leave Equality Roundtables across Australia, where employers can discuss and learn from each other about improving gender equal and family-friendly policies.

“Organisations like Baker McKenzie are sending a powerful message to the wider industry and community,” the CEO of Parents At Work Emma Walsh says. “These ground-breaking policies are helping to normalise both men and women taking time out to share the care, as well as helping to break down gender stereotypes. By actively promoting men and women as equal carers, we have the opportunity to narrow the gender pay gap, boost workplace productivity and support parents achieve both their family and work goals.”

Modern working parents want flexibility in their workplaces to be able to be engaged at home, as well as work.  Anne-Marie Allgrove says employers have a responsibility to bring about both structural and social change in this space, that will in turn faciliate gender equality in the workplace.

“Women are much more likely than men to have costly career interruptions, as well as being more likely to return to work on a less than full-time basis,” Anne-Marie Allgrove says. “These interruptions can impact an individual’s career progression, as well as contribute to salary and superannuation gender gaps.”

Baker McKenzie will continue to focus on gender equal workplace policies and encourages other legal firms to follow suit.

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