Family friendly workplaces are often a dream for those Australian parents who return to work after parental leave. Inflexible and demanding workplaces and managers, a job that’s changed after the employee returned from maternity leave and a constant pressure to perform is the norm.
A 2015 review by the Australian Human Rights Commission found almost one in five mothers said they were made redundant or dismissed, their jobs were restructured, or their contract was not renewed while they were pregnant or on maternity leave.
These often force the women to leave the workforce, stay home or start their own businesses. Their wages drop, super contributions become next to nothing and they end up with less money in retirement than their male counterparts.
However, there are companies out there who have embraced flexibility and made it work for their bottom line and employees too. Research has shown that flexible working conditions leads to more loyal, productive and engaged employees which is great for the profitability of business.
While some big businesses offer flexibility to employees, it’s smaller businesses who are leading the pack for family friendly workplaces.
Twitter introduced 20 weeks paid parental leave earlier this year for all its employees while Etsy, the global marketplace for handmade items offers their employees 26 weeks paid paternity leave when they give birth to or adopt a child. They are calling it ‘Strong Families, Strong Business’ and a means of encouraging both parents to share the parenting. Etsy’s CEO Chad Dickerson said in the blog post that he took five weeks off to look after their son when he and his wife adopted four years ago.
Other companies in Australia include:
- Westpac offers paid parental leave up to 13 weeks (or up to two years unpaid leave inclusive) and offers flexible working for all roles including job-sharing, different start and finish times or part time. They also offer various transition programs for employees.
- Thoughtworks, an IT consulting company offers 18 weeks of maternity leave at full pay and was recognised as an Employer of Choice for Gender Equality in 2015. It also offers private breastfeeding facilities in all offices and flexible work options.
- Birdsnest in Cooma NSW was listed on BRW Best Places to Work list in 2015 and 93 percent of the staff are women. Founded by Jane Cay, the business offers different start and finish times and split shifts for parents.
- Commonwealth Bank offers its employees’ children first dibs on childcare places in their nominated 5 centres. A variety of flexible working arrangements are also offered - from part time to job sharing to working from home.
- RedBalloon founded by Naomi Simson offers employees flexible working hours or a work from home arrangement.
The full list for the annual BRW Best Places to Work list in 2015 is here.
So what does it take to join other family friendly workplaces and perhaps make it on the BRW list?
Get rid of bias
Maternity coach Sona Thacore believes that a good start point is for companies to look at embedded bias in their organisational culture. “Initiatives like flexible work will never truly support the needs of working mothers because there’s still a huge gap between words and actions. A company’s ability to acknowledge and address its biases, and then change its behaviours is what stands between having initiatives and actually creating a culture of true inclusiveness and empowerment.”
Challenging assumptions is the first step towards creating a workplace culture of transparency and inclusion – both crucial components to organisation’s ability to employ, retain and empower mothers at work.
One such assumption is that many businesses think that mothers who work from home will slack off, be difficult to manage and won't get as much done as they would in an office environment. In fact studies show that mothers who are offered flexible work are more productive, loyal and engaged than their counterparts.
Amanda Webb from Xplore for Success offers the following tips for managers:
- Make it clear to the employees that flexible work practices do exist in the organisation and how they can access it.
- Don’t hold breakfast meetings or any important meetings before 9.30am because of school dropoffs.
- Offer leave options to new fathers or existing fathers so they can share parenting with their partner.
- Reconsider expectations of employees so you don’t end up with a stressed or overworked team.
- Have corporate programs for new and existing fathers to educate on the benefits of shared parenting.
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