Gender equality can only be achieved through systemic change. As the people in charge of these systems, executives have an obligation to facilitate the movement – both in the office and at home. Parental leave is just one area where significant progress can be made.
Now more than ever, corporate Australia is looking at ways to equalize the workforce. We know that there are flaws but we are working to remedy them. Diversity programs and gender quotas have both helped make a difference. The vast majority of executives are on board and planning for a fair future. In this sense, our prospects are looking very bright.
Clearly, inroads have been made in dealing with the barriers faced by women in Australian offices. However, any sort of empowerment this facilitates is undermined by what happens once women leave work. While women may be more able to work their way up to the top of corporate Australia, many still get bogged down once they go home.
According to the Housing, Income and Labour Dynamics in Australia Survey, women who are the primary earners in their family are disproportionately burdened with family obligations. On average, they spend 24.1 hours on housework and 19.3 hours on childcare per week. In contrast, their male partners spend 15.3 hours on housework and 10.9 hours on childcare. What this suggests is that women face two sets of inhibiting factors when it comes to equality: one set at work and one set at home.
One explanation that is posited for this trend is that there is a gendered inequality when it comes to expectations surrounding work-life balance. Research by Gender and the Economy suggests that workplace policies intended to encourage balance affect men and women differently. Women are far more likely to commit more of their time and effort to maintaining family commitments than men are.
This is backed up by the figures. According to the ABC, only 19% of surveyed companies offered equal parental leave to men and women. In essence, it is still the norm for fathers to commit themselves to their work once children come into the picture. Women are expected to place more emphasis on ‘life’ than ‘work’ when it comes to balance. Even when men want to become more involved in their homelife, they often do not feel supported by their employer to take leave.
The Swedish Government’s model should provide executives with some idea of how to resolve this issue. There, parents get a combined 480 days of leave that they can split evenly between them; they are payed 80% of their salary during this time. While this is a taxpayer funded program, its logic can be appropriated and applied by organisations across Australia. The underlying foundation of this policy is that family is a collaborative project; both parents are given the flexibility to take the time they need off to ensure the other parent is not disproportionately burdened with housework.
The success of such a policy lives and dies by the attitude surrounding it. In some high-octane corporate offices that are especially masculine, men don’t feel capable of requesting or accepting parental leave because it’s not the done thing. Executives must endeavor to reorient this mindset – once men and women share an understanding with regards to their and their partner’s work-life balance, women will feel more equal in the office AND at home.
You don’t get promoted to the C-Suite without an understanding of how to achieve balance in your life. Other people, however, might not be so fortunate. As leaders of corporate Australia, executives have the capacity and the responsibility to help ensure men and women are equally committed to their families as they are their work.
Not only does this make for happy and productive workers, but it is another step towards a fairer future.
The Complete Leader Program, at its core, encourages its participants to treat their work as an exercise in balance. If this article and its message resonated with you, we invite you to share it with your connections; its topic is important and must be considered far and wide. Please contact Melinda Fell for more information