Equality Outcome – Why Inclusive Parental Leave Policies Work
Smart companies are realising that it’s not only women they need to target with parental leave. Getting men and a range of other carers involved in looking after the kids is a focus that brings a range of rewards. In the mid-2000s, Australian companies were involved in a parental leave arms race. In an effort to attract higher-quality talent, they were creating generous maternity leave packages aimed squarely at women of child-bearing age. Just over a decade later, the agenda has shifted.
“Now, with a greater focus on gender equality, it’s increasingly about recognising the importance of fatherhood as well,” says Yolanda Beattie, Leader of Mercer’s Diversity and Inclusion Practice, “If men aren’t given the opportunities to lean into fatherhood they won’t. It’s exactly the same when women aren’t given the opportunity to lean into their careers. And you have to remember, that men have children at exactly the same rate as women!”
It’s a generational shift reflected in Mercer’s 2016 Global Parental Leave Report, which shows how parental leave policies are increasingly inclusive and diverse. From the era of maternity leave being a few weeks off for mum’s only, there is now a trend for maternity, paternity and primary caregiver leave for both opposite and same sex couples as well as adoption leave and leave for miscarriages as distinct categories.
Beattie admits that while actively encouraging fathers to take up leave is part of many companies’ agendas, the success of such policies has been patchy.
“Sophisticated parental leave policies are about recognising that gender equality at work will never happen until there’s gender equality at home,” says Beattie, “The leading employers are recognising that they have a role to play around creating workplaces that support fathers and consistently encourage their employees to be active fathers.”
While many large companies do extensive internal work around broader parental leave policies, there are common barriers. Shifting corporate cultural norms, for example, is especially hard in structures where intensive work is tied to remuneration. Another common barrier is the requirement that parental leave be taken in the first year.
“A lot of that is because of breastfeeding,” says Beattie, “It would be great to see more companies allow parental leave to be taken in the second year so that fathers can be involved.”
Some, like Mirvac and Telstra, have taken some novel approaches to driving cultural change. Through a partnership with the Victorian Workplace Gender Equality Agency, for example, the companies tracked the journey of the first 12 months of five new fathers and turned them into microdocumentaries.
“They started off working inflexibly and then came to work more flexibly over the journey,” says Beattie, “We saw how much the change meant for their families, what it meant for the teams and businesses, and what needed to be negotiated and changed. And then those businesses promoted that really heavily internally to help changing that mindset.”
While the journey to more inclusive parental leave schemes is just starting, Beattie believes there’s a new dynamic where companies are realising that if they want their employees to be happy, healthy and committed that means they need to support them in their life as well as their work. It also means that companies are taking a more consistent approach.
The Report found over a third (36%) of responding companies have a global parental leave policy, with another 12% considering implementing one. This represents close to half of all companies. “Companies are realising that minimum levels of parental leave should apply across legislative environments,” she says.
The widespread inclusion of adoption leave and family care leave are other markers of how parental leave policies are adapting to new family structures. “Employers recognise that society expectations are changing along with the shape of families,” says Beattie, “corporate policies need reflect that.”