The male breadwinner model has passed its expiry date. It’s time workplaces took a bold stand and actually encouraged both men and women to use ‘family friendly’ policies, writes The Parenthood’s Jo Briskey.
This year’s theme for International Women’s Day is be bold for change – to take bold pragmatic action to accelerate gender parity.
It’s a powerful theme given the Workplace Gender Equality Agency data finds that in Australia men are earning on average about $27,000 more than women. Meanwhile, in the absence of bold change and pragmatic action, the World Economic Forum predicts we won’t achieve pay parity until the year 2186.
It’s not all bad news though. Australian governments and corporations alike recognise the need to do something, that there is not only a social need but an important economic one to find the holy grail answer to the gender pay gap issue.
Our understanding of what is perpetuating the pay gap continues to expand. It is acknowledged that the gap is perpetuated by female dominated industries like health care, social assistance, education and training having lower salaries (therefore are valued less) than the salaries of male dominated industries like engineering, mining and the professional services.
A prime example of the low paid and undervaluing of ‘women’s work’ is in the early education and care sector, which pays its 97 per cent female workforce about $20 an hour to educate our youngest minds.
A massive shout out to our amazing early year educators taking strike action today in protest of their dismal pay! I wonder though, of those parents altering their work arrangements to collect their kids early, how many will be mums? My guess is that in most cases it’ll be mum doing the rearranging today. Which brings us to another recognised driver of the gender pay gap – the fact women continue to take on the lion’s share of the caring and childcare responsibilities.
Women currently dominate the unpaid carer workforce. This in turn leads to differences in the way men and women participate in the paid workforce.
For example, only 56 per cent of mums with young kids are in paid work, predominately in part-time or in insecure work, compared with 91 per cent of dads, 85 per cent of whom are in full-time work.
This disparity in participation helps to immediately explain the difference in remuneration between the two genders. It also helps to explain the disparity in career progression and the lack of female representation across senior levels in our public and private sectors.
For our current way of working dictates that senior positions can only really be performed full time and those seeking promotions to executive roles can’t have a work history with gaps, plus you’re unlikely to secure that top spot if you’re “only” working part-time.
So what is the bold pragmatic action needed to accelerate pay equity?
I must admit I love Annabel Crabb’s answer – more women need wives and more men need lives. An acknowledgement that to fully participate at work you really need someone else (e.g. a wife) making sure everything bubbles along nicely at home.
However, whilst I know many men would love to spend more time at home and more time caring for their kids or other loved ones, the reality is they can’t. And this is largely because Australia has yet to let go of the good old male bread winner model and most importantly our workplaces remain set up in support of this model.
So alas women won’t be getting wives and men won’t be getting lives any time soon, unless we can change the way we work.
Thankfully, change is afoot. As family structures change, with caring responsibilities increasingly being shared between both men and women, there is an ever increasing pressure on workplaces to develop more “family friendly” policies and practices.
It is now widely acknowledged that workplaces that support men and women to work and manage a variety of family responsibilities achieve greater economic and productivity outcomes than those which don’t.
But despite the move towards ‘family friendly policies’ among leading companies and governments, the real-life experience in the workplace remains one of difficulty and frustration, especially for women. Organisations have so far been unable to bridge the divide between their work practices and the necessary workplace culture to truly benefit from being a ‘family friendly’ workplace.
A good example of the disparity between enthusiasm to achieve gender equity and being a more family friendly workplace and actually achieving the benefits of these aspirations can be found in the Queensland public service.
The Parenthood in collaboration with Queensland Public Sector Union ‘Together’ surveyed Queensland public servants on what they considered a ‘family friendly workplace’, and to find out if they were working in one.
The results revealed flexible work arrangements (formal and informal), job-sharing, part-time work and support on return to work from parental leave, were all rated as key in describing a ‘family friendly workplace’. and that many Queensland Government agencies now offer access to these policies.
However, our results also revealed that a supportive workplace culture that encourages the uptake of these policies and leaders who role-model the use of family-friendly policies were also rated just as key in terms of what makes a workplace family friendly.
Yet on average 40 per cent of the public servants surveyed acknowledged that while their workplace provided access to family friendly policies, there was no or little support or encouragement to take them up. This isn’t just a problem for Queensland public servants – this is an issue faced across a myriad of private and public sector workplaces.
And arguably this is where the challenge lies in breaking down the barriers to achieving pay equity.
If our workplaces (noting the inherent economic and productivity value to do so) were to encourage all their employees to better meet both their work and life responsibilities, providing them the best practice and policy frameworks to do so, would we then see a shift in the gender diversity across our ‘mothers group’ coffee catch-ups and around the board room table?
If men were able to and were encouraged to take up the same opportunities as women to take time out of work to parent a new born or to work flexibly, to job share or work part time so they could take on a more even share of caring responsibilities outside work, could we then see just as many women as men progressing up the ranks, advancing careers and being confident to ask and negotiate for those pay increases and bonus payments?
If more men were engaged in caring for the young and old, would we then see a value shift in the caring, social services and education professions? Would early childhood educators, aged care workers, nurses, and teachers all be paid more? Would more men work in these professions?
Gender and employment equity academic Gillian Whitehouse, argues what is required is a shift from the male bread winner model to the universal carer/worker – worker/carer model. While that may require a complete re-write of our socially entrenched gender roles, perhaps the first to make the bold change and take pragmatic action will be our workplaces. It is, after all, costing businesses and our economy billions of dollars the longer we take to change our way of working. So money should, at least, be a key motivating factor.