As the Coalition Government remains firm to its commitment to introduce a paid parental leave scheme, I am left wondering if the policy makers actually spoke to working mums about how it would impact on them.
Or did they just canvass all women about whether, after having a baby, they would be happy to receive the equivalent of their income to remain at home until their baby is 6 months of age. Well – that would be a no-brainer.
But forget the political stoushing in which the Opposition criticises the scheme because it will give millionaires money to have a baby. That is not the issue. It is this –
Will 6 months’ paid leave really give women a “more realistic choice to combine work with family and to continue their career”?
As the mother of late primary school-aged children, who recently left my job after years of post-baby work spent stagnating in a part-time role, I think this Government has got it all wrong. In one of his recent pre-budget speeches, the Treasurer Joe Hockey said:
“Delivering on the Government’s Paid Parental Leave scheme will help women to remain engaged with their employer, lift female workforce participation, and it will provide a boost to their retirement savings.”
Really? I thought providing flexibility and professionally challenging opportunities within that flexibility is what keeps women engaged with their employer – and with the workforce in general.
To me, the paid parental leave scheme is a band-aid measure that once again ties in having babies to a $ value as part of fiscal policy. And meanwhile, the very real issues that face working mums continue to boil and remain untreated below the surface.
Like my friend, who had to get a legal letter written to her employer, who was trying to force her to sign away flexible work arrangements just 3 months after returning to work after having a baby. Or another friend, who had to deal with digs and innuendo from her manager when she had to take a day off for a sick child or arrived even a couple of minutes late after dropping her two children at childcare. Ironically, this manager was a woman. And like myself, recently denied the opportunity to take on a temporary full-time management role because I tried to negotiate flexible working hours to pick up my children from school.
It is these sorts of attitudes and actions that are resulting in working mums leaving the workforce, not within months of returning back to work after having a baby, but a few years after doing so.
So, instead of offering financial incentives that, in reality, only have a short-term impact, why aren’t our political leaders referencing two recent research reports that clearly show they are heading in the wrong direction? The Australian Human Rights Commission’s National Review on discrimination related to pregnancy, parental leave and return to work, is due to be released in June this year.
However, the Commission released some headline data from the review just this month, which shows that more than a third of mothers reported experiencing discrimination in the workplace when returning to work after parental leave. Of them:
- Nearly two thirds reported receiving negative attitudes or comments from colleagues or managers/employers.
- Half reported discrimination when they requested flexible work arrangements.
- Two in five reported discrimination related to pay, conditions and duties
- Almost a third reported discrimination related to performance assessments and career advancement opportunities.
In July last year, Ernst & Young released a report, Untapped Opportunity – the role of women in unlocking Australia’s productivity potential. The report found:
“Australia could boost business productivity by driving greater female workforce participation with flexible work offered at all levels. When given the opportunity to work flexibly, women are our most productive employees, wasting $14 billion less than their male colleagues every year.
“Making sure people with interrupted career paths achieve their potential would also improve the return on our education investment by over $8 billion, and create more self-funded retirees – reducing the cost of supporting our ageing population.”
The report put forward a number of recommendations to increase female workforce participation, including extended flexible work practices and career opportunities for flexible workers, saying the benefits these changes could unlock were…
“..worth the pain of changing thinking, altering policies and challenging assumptions. At a time when Australia is facing numerous productivity challenges, the productivity potential of women in the workforce is an untapped opportunity we cannot afford to overlook.”
Unfortunately it seems our current leaders don’t have the political will or courage to make such brave decisions and so, the resources and talents of many amazing women who can’t or don’t want to work full-time so they can spend time with their children, will remain wasted.