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No, paid parental leave isn’t enough to get more women into leadership roles

We have reached a milestone in Australia with the first national paid parental leave scheme coming in to force in the new year.  By any measure, this is good news for mums in Australia who are the majority of carers for newborns.  The coalition is promising a more attractive scheme if it makes it into government, which may leave employers thinking their problem is solved.  If you’re leaning this way, think again.  Paid parental leave is one thing, but who is going to look after the babies if all the mums go back to work after 18 weeks (or 26 weeks under the coalition scheme)? There have been no additional child care centres funded, no additional nursery places offered (in fact many centres offer NO under-two places and the new ratios has seen a 20% reduction across most existing places). 

Of the thousands of women I speak with, finding quality childcare is their number one priority so that they can return to work, and the biggest barrier to them doing so.  I raised this with Joe Hockey recently at a WIBF lunch in Sydney, and I shared my concerns this weekend in The Sun Herald.  It’s an issue that quite simply does not get enough air time.

I know that some families have a stay at home dad, but currently in Australia it’s the mum’s career that’s most impacted by parenting. Particularly in the first couple of years, finding quality care arrangements for children is STILL a big issue (no, we’re not there yet and the cancellation of hundreds of promised child care centres by the current government did nothing to help with this).

We all know how it goes… you find out you’re pregnant, you go on the waiting list for quality and affordable care, and then you wait and wait and wait.  Your return to work date is inextricably linked to how long you have to wait.  I learnt first hand what a distraction this can be – and even when you think you’ve got it sorted, there’s always some issue like childcare centres going into administration, changes of staff, your own job moves and other logistical nightmares to manage.  

Some professional women I speak with tell me that a nanny is a more convenient option for their hectic professional schedules – this can be true, except for when the nanny is sick or needs time off for holidays or an appointment or a personal need.  Then it’s back to you to sort out an alternative – which for many women means time off work til they do.

I realise not everyone is a parent… but many women are or will be and finding quality care is a very serious concern for them.  These women are facing a “creche ceiling” more than a “glass ceiling” and they need the help of employers and all of society to break through.  

What can employers do to contribute?  Employers need to get behind their women and lobby government on this issue.  Your investment in your workforce is being impacted by the inadequate planning and provision of care by our governments at every level.  Society and business need to understand that babies can mean business (see my blog about TigerAirways and how much they don’t understand this – but there are plenty more that do). It’s in the financial interest of every business to support women in their parenting roles – to make it easy for them to return to work, manage their families and life and be as productive as they can possibly be for all of Australia.

Only when the parenting issue is approached holistically – as it has bee in Scandinavia with appropriate funding, policies, infrastructure and attention – will we see more women returning to work and forging ahead in their careers, with families in tow.


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