Parental Leave Policies Should Be Gender Neutral And LGTBQI Friendly
If we are to be TRULY equal in the workplace, parental leave policies should be gender neutral and LGBTQI friendly, says Gemma Lloyd, co-founder of innovative job-search platform Work180.
All too often, Australian workplaces offer ‘maternity leave’ for mothers, instead of ‘parental leave’ which can apply to men, women, same-sex couples and adoptive/foster parents.
But why is this important? Gemma chats with She Mentors founder Ali Adey about the changing times of parenthood. Listen to the full interview above or download the She Mentors podcast!
Why does it matter?
If we are to reach gender equality at work, everyone must be given the same opportunities and support when navigating parenthood. In today’s society, families come in all shapes and sizes – and outdated policies simply don’t stack up.
“For us to be equal, men, women and same-sex couples need to be able to take up parental leave,” Gemma says. “And they need to be able to work flexibly, too.”
Research shows that flexibility at work is a critical factor in not only keeping women in the workforce, but in making space for them to return after taking leave to care for families.
A new study conducted by Australian Institute of Family Studies (AIFS) shows that it’s still common that “fathers’ employment remains virtually unchanged” while the mother’s employment “alters dramatically after having a child, and for years to come”. This directly impacts gender equality in the workplace and contributes to the 14.1% gender pay gap.
What are the benefits of offering paid parental leave?
Retaining and attracting talent is the most important thing a business can do. “It’s going to be more cost effective for an employer to give you paid parental leave than it is [to] recruit and train up a new staff member. So it actually makes financial sense,” Gemma says.
And it’s not just huge companies like HSBC that offer paid parental leave – smaller companies, which typically can’t afford to lose you, should be stepping up, too.
“The ‘we’re a small business’ defense doesn’t cut it when it comes to not having a fair parental leave policy,” she says. “If you want really good talent, then you have to support it.”
What can HR do to support new parents?
Companies need to take earnest steps towards implementing fair policies that give employees access to paid parental leave, as well as enabling their transition back to work. As a company, it’s not enough to say you stand for equality – you need to prove it too.
Offer paid parental leave
While 18 weeks at full parental pay would be ideal, a company doesn’t necessarily need to have that to be supportive. Even 6 weeks paid leave is enough to show that employees are valued, Gemma suggests.
Train the management team
A manager can be the key link between the policy and the employee. “Good companies actually train their managers on how to support people in this phase. If it’s a manager [blocking your access to parental leave], then you need to do the research into what the company’s policies are,” says Gemma.
In some companies, a paid parental leave policy might exist but it’s not implemented fairly by upper management. Accessing fair parental leave becomes trickier when it’s a manager, rather than an organisation, acting as blocker.
Offer ‘Keep in Touch’ programs
Along with having paid parental leave programs, good companies will have Keep in Touch programs – where someone from the company keeps you up-to-date with progress in the company to make your transition back to work after taking leave easier.
Create ‘parent support’ networks
While there are plenty of companies that fall short, there are some companies that go the extra mile to show they’re progressive. Some companies, like BHP, have a parents’ support network for employees with families.
Remove the minimum tenure
In a hiring culture that often discriminates against women who are pregnant (or likely to become pregnant), HSBC recently hired an 8-month-pregnant woman – giving her access to paid parental leave immediately.
This is a rare but important example of the way a company can prove its commitment to retaining and valuing workers. It’s also a far cry from most other companies’ parental leave policies, which require workers to have a minimum tenure of least one or 10 years before parental leave entitlements kick in.
With HSBC, “Instead of losing really good talent [the woman could] join while pregnant and take maternity leave straight away,” says Gemma.
These are the kinds of things we need to see more often.
So, how can you find out about your company’s parental leave policies?
“A lot of women are nervous when they’re planning a family or falling pregnant because the reality is that there are employers out there who do discriminate – or who are very difficult to speak to – if you’re in that circumstance,” says Gemma.
The first thing is to know where you stand.
“Do your research and try to understand what policies your company has in place. Sometimes, employees might not know the level support on offer by their company. The company might not talk about it but they could actually have some really policies in place,” she says.
Next, do a HR health check on your company and compare it against other organisations. You can do this on Gemma’s platform: Work180. Work180 screens employers on their policies and publishes information around their pay equity, flexible working, paid parental leave policies and even breastfeeding facilities. Basically, it lets you suss out a potential employer to see if its the right place for you.
“Traditionally, the power has always been with the employer, saying to the job seeker, ‘you show us your credentials’. But we’re flipping that over, doing the 180 and saying, ‘Well, no, employer. You show us your credentials; show us why I should work for you’,” says Gemma.
When having the initial parental leave conversation, Gemma says that having a supportive manager makes it easier. “Legally, they can’t discriminate against you...but if you find your manager difficult to talk to, try to raise it with HR.”
Whether you’re looking to start a family now or later, find out early what policies your company has in place. Gemma says this is especially important when you’re interviewing for a new job. Traditionally, we avoid asking questions about the employer that might compromise our chances of being hired. But Gemma wants this to change.
“You want to make sure the company will fit your needs as well; it “should always be a two-way street”, she says.
“This is about educating everyone and about publicising what good organisations are doing. The most important thing in your company is to treat your people well, because then they will give it back to you.”
Want to know more about how to ask your employer for paid parental leave? Check out our podcast episode on The Importance of Paid Parental Leave with Gemma Lloyd.