Published on Monday 4 March 2019
Last week I attended a Parental Leave Equality Roundtable discussion on behalf The Father Hood, led by the fantastic Emma Walsh from Parents At Work. We heard about the huge disparity in availability and take-up of paid parental leave between women and men and how workplaces such as Medibank and Spotify are successfully getting on the front foot to address this.
Paid parental leave equality is often considered as a way to improve the representation of women in the workplace, access to career opportunities and advancement, to provide equal opportunity, equal pay and remove systemic discrimination.
The presentations were insightful and inspiring, however the thing that struck me most was the gender make-up of the room. Of 40 people attending, only 4 were men.
Why? Is this because of a gender bias amongst HR professionals, who are usually involved in leave and workforce equality issues? Or is there more to it? Could it reflect interest in the topic and desire to do something about it? I certainly hope not.
My mother sacrificed her professional life to raise the family. My father sacrificed his time with the family to provide financially. While they both worked and cared, mum was the primary carer and dad was the primary earner. And I think Mum had the more fulfilling role.
Traditional gender roles are being rapidly blown away. One of the reasons we started The Father Hood was that, as the first generation to navigate this new social landscape, we want to encourage conversations that help families thrive in this brave new world.
As we advance quickly towards shared care, I’m excited by the opportunities this will open for women professionally and I’m equally excited by the opportunities this will provide for men to experience more fulfilling hands-on family time. On people’s death bed, they only talk about family memories and relationships, not career highlights or work colleagues.
I sat in the room last week and wondered, if we change the way we come at the discussion, would the gender split of attendees also change? In addition to focusing on the representation of women in the workforce, could this be tackled as improving the representation of men in the home, access to opportunities in raising and advancing their families, and equal opportunity to these fulfilling, life-defining experiences and growth? And the various benefits that this delivers for all.
If paid parental leave access was framed more as a way to improve everyone’s access to life’s rich opportunities and experiences, both at work and at home, would we have more blokes in the room?