If an organisation aspires to elevate their company’s position across industries, and in particular to retain women in the senior leadership pool, then they should invest further in creating equity for women throughout their careers. Many of the barriers to equality are financial and this is where some of the below recommendations apply.
“Do you have paid maternity leave?” is a question being asked more frequently in recruitment interviews. Companies who don’t are tending to fall behind industry norms and they should seriously consider this as an obvious asset in recruiting and retaining women.
‘Partner’ should apply to a male or female partner living in a permanent relationship with the birth mother or adoptive mother. However, in the context of gender equality, this commentary focuses on men.
There is a growing number of men who are actively involved in parenting and caring responsibilities, but in order to achieve gender equality in the workplace, a more equal share will need to be accepted by men. To support and encourage men to spend time with their newborn or very young child, many counties (Sweden in particular) are offering generous paid partner leave. In some cases the paid partner leave is concurrent with the mother’s paid leave, and in other cases paid parental leave can be taken by either parent.
Government policies in Australia need to catch up with international initiatives, which will take time, but there is nothing to stop organisations introducing more generous paid partner leave ahead of the rest.
The Superannuation Guarantee (SG) legislates that employers must pay 9.5% (currently) of an employee’s ordinary time earnings into a superannuation fund.
Women don’t have a legal entitlement to the SG whilst on maternity leave, which contributes to females leaving work with approximately half of the superannuation value of men according to ABS data.
Organisations can, however, choose to continue to pay a woman’s superannuation benefit during her absence on maternity leave. Combining with paid maternity/parental leave, this would be hugely attractive to women and help companies retain women in the workforce.
New mothers, either through the birth or adoption of a child, will often apply for flexibility when returning to work, most of whom request flexibility in the form of fewer working hours. (It is worth stating that employers are obliged to seriously consider these requests and only deny them if there is a genuine business reason.) The objective should be to identify mutually beneficial arrangements, where organisations retain staff and new parents can spend time with their child.
Traditionally the mother is still the primary carer, and fewer hours will almost always result in less pay and therefore reduced superannuation payments. Leading companies are continuing to pay the SG as though the woman is still working full-time. Another excellent example of supporting and retaining women and helping to close the superannuation gap.
One of the most stressful times for parents is school holidays. With school-age children in Australia attending school for 200 days a year (equating to 40 weeks), this leaves 12 weeks of school holidays (more for private schools). Australian workers are entitled to 4 weeks annual leave a year, which leaves a delta of 8 weeks. Little research has been done in this area, but anecdotal evidence shows that most parents rely on paid holiday camps, paid sports camps, friends and family to fill the gaps.
A hot topic at the moment is the option for employees to purchase additional leave from their employer and this is something that should be actively pursued. It could work in either of the following two ways:
Although the focus in this context is on parents of school-age children, the purchase of extra annual leave should also be available to other employees.
Proximity to day care for employees’ children is an enormous benefit to parents, decreasing stress of finding places, and being close if a visit is necessary. Some large organisations are able to provide space on site for child care facilities, but another option is to create a relationship with local child care centres. This may include financial arrangements which would prioritise the organisation’s employees’ children at the centre/s, and possibly offset some of the cost of care.
Many organisations are generally supportive of, and even encourage, employees to bring children to the office during school holidays when alternative care is not available. The children are naturally of school age and able to interact and play with other employees’ children in a safe area with minimal supervision. The intent is that employees can work whilst their child plays, with regular interaction throughout the day; however, it is not generally intended that organisations become centres for parents and children to spend the entire day playing together!
Responsibility to maintain a focus on gender equality should not be left solely to the HR. Many organisations have established groups of employee advocates to advise the company on gender issues and to feed back to the leadership group the feelings and experiences of women, and men, in the business. It is a healthy business option to give a voice to employees in some way, but only if the organisation is committed to listening to the feedback and to take action as necessary.
Hilary Lamb is Chairman of The 100% Project as well as Director of Engagement & Cultural Development for CROSSMARK Asia Pacific. She has a demonstrated history of working in the non-profit organisation management industry and is skilled in coaching, sales, management, account management, and employee training. It is her personal and professional goal to contribute to the changing environment to provide equal opportunity for everyone.