Annabel Crabb’s International Women’s Day breakfast presentation at the AHRI this morning was inspiring and insightful – but also, sadly, disheartening. It’s clear we still have a long way to go before we achieve gender equality both at work and at home.
She spoke passionately on the theme of her recent Quarterly Essay, Men at Work: Australia’s Parenthood Trap – the acknowledgment that in the past half-century, women have revolutionised the way they work and live. But men’s lives have changed remarkably little.
She called for employers – both public and private sector – to encourage men to adopt flexible working practices and to create gender equal parental leave policies. The statistic that 76% of working fathers versus only 15% of working mothers have spouses who work flexibly, part-time or not at all was particularly eye opening.
Annabel reinforces what we’ve been trying to redress here at FlexCareers for almost five years. When we think about gender equality, we’re still more often than not female focused. And this has meant somehow, employers have taken their eye off the prize.
Employers have traditionally been focused on ‘allowing’ a mother to work part-time so she can care for her kids or ‘allowing’ a mother to take a year off for maternity leave. Or will smile benevolently as she leaves early to attend school events or take her ageing parents to specialist appointments.
But fathers should also be ‘allowed’ to deal with life responsibilities and childcare without fear of recrimination or bias. If fathers feel comfortable asking for flexibility, to start late, to work part-time or to leave in the middle of a meeting because their child is sick, mothers can continue to be present and productive at work.
Even though progressive employers are beginning to remove gender from flexibility frameworks, such as remodeling maternity leave into parental leave, the way it’s being used remains very gendered. According to recent FlexCareers research, women’s number one use of workplace flexibility is to stay on top of life admin followed by caring for her kids. Men’s number one reason is to improve work life balance followed by looking after their mental health.
In short, this imbalance has to change.
As Annabel reinforced this morning, although it’s up to every single one of us to change societal norms of gender equality – and we are starting to close the gap on gender equality in this area – our employers have a crucial, if not leading role to play. It’s about having choice to work flexibly no matter what your gender.
In many cases women earn more than their partners. And yet they give up their salary because they’re often the only parent who is able to take maternity leave.
In many cases, men want to be more present for their kids. And yet they are often the main breadwinner working over 40 hours a week.
These scenarios are unacceptable on so many levels. Employers need to stop perpetuating the traditional, antiquated views of traditional male and female roles.
We will therefore never achieve gender equality without workplace flexibility.
Thankfully, we’re seeing some great employers in Australia really leading the charge and providing parental leave that lessens the load on the primary caregiver and provides more flexibility for the secondary caregiver to be around as they are needed.
Additionally, we’re seeing an increased interest in hiring women who have had an extended period out of the workforce due to caring responsibilities. Return to work programs recognise great talent and provide the support women need to transition successfully.
We’re also seeing more organisations trying to be ‘all roles flex’. It’s a journey. But the realisation that allowing people to work flexibly is good for business is finally reaching critical mass. We finally have data to prove that flexible work practices improve performance, productivity, health and wellbeing as well as talent attraction.
FlexCareers exists to make flexibility the norm, not the exception.
And to that end we’re focusing this year on enabling men to support the women in their lives to make choices they haven’t previously had. Whether that’s rolling out our return to work programs and events or launching our Flexibility Certification to allow ‘people’ to actually choose a job they want, with flexibility as a given.
If we build equality into flexible frameworks, leave policies and support programs we might just have a nation of men and women who are equal in their choice of how they work, manage their finances and care for family. And who are generally better (gender) balanced people.