When FlexCareers decided to undertake this research, I mentally prepared myself to have some difficult conversations. I’d spent 12-months moderating our Facebook page, and running free career coaching sessions in our support group, so I knew that employers in Australia and New Zealand had a problem.
What I didn’t adequately prepare for was the number of women that reached out to me via phone and email, and openly shared their raw, and often very confronting, stories of workplace discrimination and bullying.
852 women and 132 men responded our FlexCareers survey, and hundreds more brave women reached out to us to share their experiences, many of whom have never returned to work because of how they were treated.
As the #MeToo movement has again shown, many victims of harassment, bullying and discrimination never seek advice or support. Of the women that I spoke to, many only realised that a law had been broken months or years after the event, some were too traumatised to pursue the matter, and others feared that it would would harm their career, or simply did not believe anyone would listen.
And it’s not just women that are affected. I spoke to one man whose employer refused to allow him to take his planned parental leave early, so that he could travel overseas to be with his partner and infant daughter, after their surrogate went into labour prematurely. He felt strongly that had he not been in a same-sex relationship, and it was his wife that had gone into labour, he would have been allowed leave without question.
65% said that their experience has put them off returning to, or remaining in, the workforce.
But it’s not just bullying and discrimination that’s an issue. Australia continues to lag behind other developed (and some less developed) countries when it comes to parental leave entitlements, and giving equal opportunities for all parents to be involved with raising their children. Our research shows that only half of employers in Australia and New Zealand offer any support to new parents over and above statutory obligations, and for those that do, many are missing simple steps they could take to improve employee experience, increase the number of parents returning from leave, and most importantly – ensuring that this group of experienced, highly employable and talented people are not lost from our workforce forever.
Employers need to do more to support their people, their most valuable assets, and ensure that they are able to continue on in their careers. We need to break through the quiet acceptance, the unspoken understanding that by having a child, your career will be put on hold, your earning potential reduced and your value to society limited to your role as chief nappy-changer.
FlexCareers hope that by publishing this research together with feedback from some of our interviews, employers in Australia and New Zealand will understand the magnitude of the problem, and take urgent steps to address it.
If your organisation needs support to identify where improvements are required to support new parents, or to transform your approach to workplace flexibility, you can contact us at [email protected]