Offering an excellent paid parental leave program that aims to better retain and attain women in the workforce will only go so far, if it fails to address the role of fathers.
That’s why the recently launched Advancing Parental Leave Equality Network (APLEN), is advocating for better shared parental leave in Australia.
The network of organisations, run by local advocacy group Parents At Work, wants to see equal rights for mums and dads in workplaces, and employers better adopting gender neutral language, along with discrimination and stigma-free cultures when it comes to parenting.
Despite decades of focus on women’s educational attainment and careers, one thing has remained fairly constant: the careers of dads change very little after having children, compared with the careers of mothers.
New research from the Australian Institute of Family Studies confirms that the male breadwinner model is still very much the norm in Australia in 2019, with little change over the past ten years.
Just five per cent of dads work part time compared with 38 per cent of mothers. The research also finds that the number of hours dads spend employed stays largely the same after the birth of a child.
Mothers, meanwhile, take on the bulk of the caring responsibilities for children under the age of one. The hours they spend in paid work drops dramatically after the birth of a child, before then taking years to return to anything close to the number of hours a father spends in paid work.
APLEN aims to disrupt these long-sustained gender roles by addressing the critical factor of who can take a significant stint of parental leave.
We recently spoke to Emma Walsh, the founder and CEO of Parents At Work which established APLEN, on just what the network wants to achieve, and why paid parental leave equality is so vital for advancing women at work.
She spoke about why APLEN has Swedish roots and is particularly inspired by the extraordinary progress Sweden has made on shared care. We also discussed how some of the network’s initial founders have dramatically enhanced their paid parental leave offerings to better support fathers.
While Australia has a government paid parental leave scheme, offering 18 weeks at the minimum wage, making it the lowest paid scheme compared to other OECD nations (except the US which doesn’t have a federally funded approach).
The two weeks minimum wage provided for ‘dads and partners’ is simply not enough to significantly promote shared care and continues to reinforce the stereotype that dads are ‘secondary’ carers and women are primarily responsible for caring for children.
In Sweden, new parents are offered 480 days between them, with 90 days reserved for each parent on a ‘use it or lose it’ basis. This has created a significant cultural shift, with fathers taking long stints of parental leave seen as the norm. Some media reports refer to the common sight of the “latte dads” or “latte pappas” in Stockholm – groups of dads with babies and toddlers, sitting in cafes. As a result 88% of Swedish Dads make use of a proportion of their paid parental leave.
In Australia, less than 5 per cent of fathers are using the government paid parental leave as a primary carer, with less than one in three accessing even the two weeks of ‘Dad & Partner Pay’ on offer. A number of studies have indicated fathers still feel a stigma associated with taking extended stints of leave and working part time that may affect their career prospects.
Emma says smart employers are sharpening their parental leave offerings to help create more gender equal workplaces and play a part in shifting the balance on caring responsibilities at home.
These organisations not only see it as the ‘right thing to do’ to promote gender equality but also a commercial imperative that will enable them to better attract and retain the best talent.
The music streaming service Spotify is one example that has successfully implemented and benefited from a strong paid parental leave policy. It offers six months paid leave to all new parents, with a further 30 days designed to assist those returning from leave in transitioning back to work. Sixty eight per cent of those who have taken up the leave since it was introduced in 2015 have been male. As Spotify CEO Jane Huxley recently told an APLEN forum, “It’s a good business to be in to have sound policies and a good culture. You then get to pick the best of the best.”
Indeed, Spotify is currently receiving 20,000 job applications a month.
Meanwhile, both QBE and Deloitte recently announced significant changes to their paid parental leave policies in order to promote more sharing of career breaks and parental leave between men and women.
Deloitte already offers 18 weeks paid leave to new parents regardless of gender, but recently enhanced the policy to enable parents to take it up over three years. The leave can be used when the baby is first born, when the child is a toddler, or broken up with a range of flexible ways – including by working part time for a period. As Deloitte Australia CEO Richard Deutsch said on the new policy. “You’re not just a parent for 12 months.”
QBE recently announced its own policy of 12 weeks of paid parental leave to all new parents that can be used anytime within the child’s first two years. QBE’s Chief HR Officer Eleanor Debelle said the goal is to make the workplace more family friendly for all parents, not just mothers.
Since Medibank introduced its FamilyFlex policy in Mach 2018, offering all parents 14 weeks paid parental leave regardless of their ‘primary’ or ‘secondary’ status, it quickly saw a significant uptick in the number of men taking extended parental leave, and participating in flexible work.
But policies on paid parental leave can only go so far: a cultural shift is essential in order to better promote the idea of men taking leave. Emma says addressing language and asking simple questions like, ‘how much leave are you taking?” to a male whose partner is pregnant, can help. Any new mum will have experienced hearing such questions frequently while pregnant, but it’s far less common for their partners to be asked.
Still, offering gender neutral policies can be a great first step for an employer to start the process of shifting culture. It enables men and women to see a wider range of future prospects with their employer, and starts a conversation about the role of parental leave equality in promoting share care.
APLEN is free for employers and interested individuals to join, and run by a team that’s passionate about shifting the status quo on parental leave.
With a steering group that includes members from Telstra, QBE, KPMG, Commonwealth Bank, Deloitte, PwC and Norton Rose Fulbright, APLEN’s already planning on launching a National Working Families survey to engage parents on what they need when it comes to parental leave, flexible work to help them manage work and family.
And Parents At Work recently published a white paper detailing the business case for action on paid parental leave, a best practice guide for employers and a number of industry events to explore what more can be done.
See more on the Advancing Parental Leave Equality Network here.