It is rare that we discuss the disadvantages and unequal opportunities of men in the workforce, as there is an overarching perception that men ultimately do not have any. However, they do, and not only are men suffering, but the flow-on effect from this disadvantage ultimately affects women too.
The issue I am talking about is one that is often over-looked and under-valued when it comes to men: parental leave.
We’ve all heard the stereotypical gender binary: women are the caregivers and men are the breadwinners—meaning if or when a couple decide to have a child, it is the woman that must put her professional career on hold to take care of the newborn. It’s an archetype that women are fighting, trying to prove that we can in fact ‘have it all’. However, reflecting on insights shared at NEEOPA’s 2019 paid parental leave seminar, I would argue that the bigger question is not how can women have it all but rather why should they have to?
The current paid parental leave scheme offered in Australia is one of the least generous compared to other countries, and it’s quite obvious why.
The first nationwide scheme was introduced a mere 8 years ago and there has been no change or progress with the parental leave scheme for the last 5 years, affirming that this is not seen as an important issue to our Government, reinforcing the gender stereotype that it is a woman’s duty to raise a child.
This lack of progression is clearly demonstrated through the current statistics on paid parental leave trends in the workplace: In Australia less than 5 per cent of men take paid parental leave and more than 50 per cent of Australians have no access to employer supported paid parental leave.
So, what is the current Government scheme on offer for Australians?
Currently the scheme offers primary caregivers up to 18 weeks paid parental leave, with eligible working dads and partners getting a mere 2 weeks. This scheme can also only be accessed once you’ve worked for the employer for at least 12 months.
Comparatively, the UK (as of 2015) offers a shared paid parental leave scheme of 50 weeks, of which 37 weeks are paid. And as the front runners of parental leave reform, Sweden offers parents 480 days paid parental leave, 90 of which are specifically for fathers. In other words, Australia still has a long way to go.
The archaic view that a man is the breadwinner and must solely carry the burden to provide financially for a family is still instilled in many people today. However, shared care should be the norm, not the exception.
But how do we go about changing an ideal that has been ingrained into men, businesses and even women, for generations?
1. Our Language Needs To Change
The way we speak about our role in a child’s life needs to change. This starts with the wording ‘primary and secondary carer’. By trying to force a title on a parent or make parents choose who will be the main carer, we are contributing to inequality in the home and in the workplace. We need to realise that both parents are equally responsible, and should be given an equal opportunity to raise their child together.
2. Get Talking
The more men that loudly and proudly speak about taking parental leave, the more it encourages others to follow suit. Research has found that if just one man shares that they took paid parental leave, it encourages 4 or 5 other men to consider taking it as well. Therefore, if we focus on creating a culture that values support and inclusion and destigmatising this idea around men and parental leave, we can help bridge the gap between genders.
3. Offer Your Own Policy
Companies that offer paid parental leave have better retention rates and a more productive workforce. This has been proven by companies, such as Deloitte, who created their own paid parental leave scheme out of their understanding and value of diversity + inclusion in the workplace. By giving men the opportunity to take time off work, it reduces the stress on women and increases the chance that both parents return to the workforce. The company culture surrounding paid parental leave, as seen through companies like Deloitte, can also be a strategic differentiator from their competitors and a way to retain some of your most skilled employees.
It’s time to acknowledge that people are parents for more than 12 months. And by creating an equal playing field for both parents, we are creating a stronger, more productive and dynamic workforce.
A Human Agency values parents in the workforce, and the benefit of an inclusive workplace.
If your paid parental leave scheme needs an overhaul, get in touch!