Parental Leave Equality forum notes

Advancing Parental Leave Equality: supporting men and women to share the care

Australia’s mainstream approach to paid parental leave must do more to encourage more men to take an active role as fathers.

According to the WGEA, progress towards parental leave equality in our country has stalled. Australia currently has the least generous paid parental leave scheme of all OECD nations. Furthermore, while 88% of fathers in Sweden take parental leave, Australia’s take-up sits at only 2 to 5% To move towards a more equitable workplace, things need to change.

This was the subject of our most recent forum: a lively panel discussion facilitated by Emma Walsh, Founder and CEO, Parents at Work, and featuring Sam Sheppard, CHRO, Deloitte; Catherine McNair, Head of Diversity & Inclusion, QBE Insurance, and Alex Laguna, Founder, Betterdads. It was a great opportunity to share experience and insight on how to improve parental leave equality in Australia.

Below are some of the key points raised throughout the discussion.

Celebrating dads can help spark conversations about parental leave equality.

Emma kick-started the event by introducing Parents at Work’s Aussie Dads Event and Photography Exhibition: a series of photographs, displayed last year at the Sydney Opera House and Melbourne State Library, that celebrated men at home with their kids.

Being photographed required fathers to be brave, as participants expressed feelings of uncertainty, pride and (for some) a wish to not draw attention to themselves in case it was career-limiting.

Their participation, however, helped to generate an Australian-first public conversation about men’s engagement with parental leave. It also led to conversations within workplaces and organisations about how to improve the take-up of men’s parental leave, and ultimately move towards a scheme that equally supports men and women taking time off work to raise kids.

Inclusive workplaces take responsibility for best practice parental leave.

Deloitte Australia has recently lifted the bar on parental leave equality, with plans to offer men and women an option of taking 18 weeks paid parental leave across three years in a range of flexible ways.

Sam shared how the initiative grew from 10-15 years of continuous investment in the importance of diversity – in particular, the anchoring of an inclusive culture as a strategic differentiator to attract and retain talent. As a result, key changes have been made to Deloitte’s parental leave scheme, some of which include:

  • allowing leave being taken more flexibly and on a part-time basis, acknowledging that parents are parents for more than 12 months

  • superannuation being paid on unpaid leave

  • changes to eligibility criteria, with people no longer required to work for a minimum of 12 months but eligible on completion of probation.

The business case for changing paid parental leave at Deloitte hinged on compliance, doing the right thing by employees and a realistic cost perspective (only a small percentage of people take leave at any point in time).

Results so far have been positive, with the take-up rate increasing by 128% in the first six months, senior leaders actively endorsing the policy, and employees excited by the changes.

Language matters: ‘parental leave’, not ‘primary and secondary carers leave’.

QBE is encouraging parents to share the care by scrapping gender labels and offering its existing 12 weeks of paid parental leave to every new parent, regardless of gender, instead of using the terms ‘primary’ and ‘secondary’ carers.

According to Catherine, the organisation built awareness for the scheme with an inclusive culture, as leaders (including the new CEO) use inclusive language and shift the dial towards gender equality and family friendly practices.

The new policy was announced on International Women’s Day and is being applied to anyone who has had a child in the last 24-month period. Since then, six men have already applied, with two on leave and two about to start. QBE is now planning on rolling out a series of supportive communications for managers to remove any barriers to access.

It takes both role models and workplaces that value families to make a change.

When it comes to the question, ‘do men really want to take parental leave?’, Alex Laguna, founder of Betterdads, believes the answer is a resounding ‘yes’.

What is needed, says Alex is more role models: men who demonstrate the importance of being with your kids and the rewards that come with sharing the parenting role. To help meet this need, the Betterdads website features video interviews with community figures sharing their experience as active dads.

Workplaces with family-friendly policies and gender-neutral parental leave policies also make a huge difference. Raising kids is a tough job; what people need is understanding from their employers, and flexible options that acknowledges work is what you do, not where you are. This can go a long way towards encouraging men to take up paid parental leave and be more present on the homefront.

Keen to get involved in the conversation? You can do so by joining APLEN a free network set up to aid discussions on what organisations can do to work towards parental leave equality.

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