Women still do the bulk of the unpaid work, but shared care policies can help | Women's Agenda

Women still do the bulk of the unpaid work, but shared care policies can help

Around the world, one of the greatest barriers to women’s workforce participation is the burden of unpaid work that they continue to shoulder at home. 

In Australia, it’s estimated that women on average spend 311 minutes each day on unpaid work, compared to the 172 minutes spent by men. Of course work needs to be done, but the burden of that work should be shared equally in families if women are ever to have equal access to leadership and decision making and independent economic security.

We know that caring responsibilities are a major barrier for women’s advancement in the workforce, and despite the introduction of paid parental leave, the balance of who is taking on primary care responsibilities hasn’t shifted much. In Sweden, where progressive policy has incentivised men to take on primary caring in the first year of a child’s life, we are seeing very positive results with more women back in the workforce and a change in the way employers perceive mothers, reducing the conscious and unconscious ‘motherhood penalty’ that continues to negatively impact women’s careers.

Recognising the business imperative to attract, retain and promote the most talented people (and thus a diverse range of people), many employers in Australia are actively seeking to benefit from the gender and diversity dividend, by introducing policies and programs which unashamedly support women to return to, stay in and be promoted at work.

Ahead of International Women’s Day, one company has introduced a game changing policy which aims to incentivise women back to work, and support their partners to take an active role in primary care responsibilities.

QLD based Aurizon has announced ‘Shared Care’ this week, committing to provide all male employees with up to 26 weeks on half pay if they take on primary caring responsibilities while their partner returns to full-time work. If a female employee is seeking to return to work full-time, but their partner does not have access to paid leave, Aurizon will pay the female worker 150% of their salary for between 13-26 weeks, acknowledging the importance of maintaining family income.  Where both parents work for Aurizon, Aurizon will provide 13-26 weeks at half-pay for the partner employee to care for a child, when a female employee returns to work full-time. The basic principal is that to get talented women back to work, we are going to have to overcome the financial disincentives that currently exist.

On its own, this policy isn’t enough. But coupled with other policies including paying superannuation on parental leave, providing transition support to parents returning to work after having children and a range of other strategies, Aurizon is seeing positive results. With stronger flexible work arrangements, senior leadership accountability and a genuine commitment to diversity, I suspect I am not the only woman who is now actively looking at the Aurizon employment page!

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