It’s well documented that increasing female participation in the workforce would have a significant impact on the Australian economy. Over the last decade, leading organisations such as the OECD, Goldman Sachs, McKinsey and Company and the Workplace Gender Equality Agency have produced studies on the economic influence of gender equality. The outcome of each study has shown compelling evidence that improved gender equality in the workplace would strengthen Australia’s economy.
According to Goldman Sachs, for every year that the problem of gender inequality goes unresolved, Australia’s GDP forfeits a 20% increase. This figure represents an annual loss of around $300 billion to the economy.
It makes sense for all businesses to address gender inequality.
Research from the Peterson Institute of International Economics suggests that a typical corporate firm could see a 15% increase in profitability by going from having no women in corporate leadership to a 30% female share. The common view is that gender equality and diversity brings together varied perspectives, produces a more holistic analysis of the issues an organisation faces, and leads to improved decision-making, which in turn increases organisational performance.
Yet, in spite of these clear economic and performance benefits for organisations, there’s a stark disconnect to the way women are treated in the workforce in relation to pregnancy and parental leave. The last National Review by the Australian Human Rights Commission into discrimination related to pregnancy and parental leave, found that one in two (49%) mothers reported experiencing discrimination in the workplace at some point. And it’s not just mothers. Over a quarter (27%) of the fathers and partners surveyed reported experiencing discrimination related to parental leave and return to work despite taking very short periods of leave.
Not only does discrimination have a negative impact on employee engagement and their attachment to their workplace, the commercial loss to businesses when women don’t return to work is high.
Employers should be concerned that they are losing an investment when talent, potential and intellectual property leave their business.
A key element in retaining parents in the workplace is flexible work practices. However, there is a certain stigma attached to flexible working; a perception of a lack of commitment to career progression, with flexible working options becoming ‘career dead ends’. For flexibility to work, for both parents and employers, there must be executive support, as well as a culture of acceptance within the organisation, particularly by middle management levels.
In reality, any disconnection between organisational policy and how managers implement it, makes the policy redundant.
It is clear there are significant challenges that need to be addressed so employers and employees are aware of their obligations, rights, and entitlements in relation to pregnancy, parental leave and returning to work. However, even with this knowledge, organisational culture needs to change to be more compatible with having a family.
A critical step for gender equality is that employers need to support men to be active, hands-on-dads. Without this, women will always be held back in the workplace, and shouldered with most of the responsibility for looking after children.
For companies to attract and retain their talented workforce and specifically to future-proof their millennial workforce, they need to adapt policy and culture to align with current thinking, which is parenting isn’t the sole responsibility of women.
The Gender Pay Gap prevents many fathers from taking time off work for parenting, since family income is more likely to be compromised when they do, so not only is closing the Gender Pay Gap the right thing to do for women, it is also necessary if fathers are going to have equal opportunity to take parental leave.
The attrition of talent surrounding parental leave doesn’t solely relate to the loss of women. Evidence is beginning to emerge of hidden ‘father-churn’: fathers or expectant fathers changing employment because they cannot reconcile family/ work obligations, and possibly not explaining this to their employer. Fathers with access to flexible working seem to be more satisfied with work/ family balance and to be less likely to consider changing employer (Burnett et al., 2011).
The Fatherhood Institute suggests that because men often hold positions of influence in the workplace, we need men to ‘walk the talk’ by creating workplaces that encourage men to be active fathers and protect women against the ‘motherhood penalty’. There are a range of ways men can do this:
- Men in senior roles could look seriously at the business case for closing the gender pay gap and redesigning their organisations’ parenting leave systems. Key changes could include enhancing shared parental leave for either parent to the same extent as they enhance maternity leave; promoting flexible working approaches explicitly to men in the workforce; and enabling male employees to ‘come out’ as dads.
- Senior managers who are dads could take substantial leave during their child’s first year, to help encourage others to do so. The more visible ‘boardroom dads’ become, the more dads in other parts of the organisation will feel free to open up about their aspirations for a better work-life balance.
We need all employers to recognise the part they play in driving a more equal and fair workplace so all parents can benefit from the opportunity to parent and work.
At Triiyo, they support company’s to achieve this. Triiyo is the leading parental leave platform designed to maximise the participation of women in the workforce and address parental leave equality by normalising parenting in the workplace. Their People Engagement Platform enhances connectivity and communication between teams and provides practical resources to support managers and employees through pregnancy, parental leave, and on return to work after parental leave.