Employers paying men & women to 'share the care' gives reason for hope

Employers paying men & women to equally ‘share the care’ gives reason for hope

Deloitte and QBE have each announced changes this week to their paid parental leave programs, specifically designed to ensure parenting, career breaks and flexible working are shared between men and women.

Employers not just thinking about the role they play in encouraging staff to share the care but introducing specific policies to make it happen is welcome. Research indicates that focusing on increasing men’s roles at home will help close the gender gap better than workplace policies designed for women. Currently less than 5 per cent of men in Australia elect to take extended parental leave.

Global research indicates the provision of paid parental leave for fathers – whether its paid by the government or an employer – is one of the most effective ways to get more dads taking leave.

Deloitte already offers 18 weeks paid leave to new parents, regardless of gender, but effective from this week that leave can now be taken over three years, broken up in a range of flexible ways to suit each family’s unique needs.

If they want to work three or four days a week for a chunk of time they can, or, they can take it in one go. If both parents work for Deloitte, they are entitled to take parental leave at the same time if that suits them.

“You’re not just a parent for 12 months,” Deloitte Australia Chief Executive Officer Richard Deutsch says. “Nothing is more important than the arrival of a new addition to the family and both parents should have the opportunity to provide support to their children through those early years.”

Under Deloitte’s new policy employees will be eligible to access the leave as soon they join the firm, as long as they successfully complete their probation period. Superannuation contributions will continue to be paid while employees are taking unpaid parental leave.

“The new approach will allow our people to pursue and develop their careers with flexibility and purpose. We’re encouraging them to take an active role in caring responsibilities for their families while minimising the financial impact of having a break for parental leave,” Deutsche said.

“I want to encourage everyone to access the parental leave they’re entitled to. We’ve led the way in removing the barriers that previously confronted some people from doing so. This is a time of shared responsibility and the new policy is one I’m proud to initiate.”

QBE’s Share the Care initiative introduced this week eliminates the gendered “primary” and “secondary” carer labels, offers 12-weeks paid parental leave to all new parents and can be used flexibly within two years of a child’s arrival.

“Sharing the role of caregiver is fundamental to achieving gender equality by mainstreaming career breaks and flexible working for both men and women,” Eleanor Debelle, the Chief HR Officer at QBE Australia Pacific, says. “Our goal is not to make our workplace more family friendly for women, but to make our workplace more family friendly for all parents.”

Over the last 12-months, QBE’s male employees have represented just 8 per cent of primary carers and 100 per cent of secondary carers. The insurer acknowledges the barriers that prevent men from playing a more active role in the early years of their family’s lives need to be intentionally dismantled.

“In Australia, current paid parental leave schemes disadvantage men as caregivers – entrenching women as primary caregivers and men as primary earners,” Emma Walsh the founder and CEO at Parents at Work says. “It’s time to change this, and that’s what QBE is doing. Australia will not close the gender gap if we don’t advance Parental Leave Equality and promote ‘shared’ parental leave policies.”

QBE has already made several employees eligible for the new policy to explore the benefits, including senior male leaders who can role model the initiative and show other men in the business it’s ok to prioritise family.

“It’s a huge gain for someone like me who can now access this leave perhaps one or two-days a week,” property claims manager Sam Morgan. “I initially thought of this benefit from my own perspective, but when I started to think about what it meant for my wife and for other women in the workplace, and what opportunities this would open up for them, the true brilliance of the program became really apparent to me. It allows my wife the flexibility to make her own career choices.”

These are the types of policies that can – and will – change the dynamics in households that perpetuate and entrench the gap between men and women. That prevents too many men from becoming engaged dads.

The initiatives have the power to allow fathers to care more equally, to enable women to work more equally and can deliver myriad benefit to families because of it.

These policies give me hope for change: may they inspire many other employers to consider doing the same.

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