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Support men as equal parenting partners

  • 12 June 2019


Ten years ago, women spent a lot of time trying to 'have it all' — both a rewarding career and a family life. But it's clear now that 'having it all' is impossible and trying to achieve it just leads to stress and burnout.

Women may be capable, especially when it comes to things like multitasking and emotional labour, but they're not superheroes. Some declare it a failure of feminism that this juggle has proved too difficult for most of us, but if we were ever going to have it all, we needed some help to get there (and still do).

That help has been slow in coming. A recent report by AIFS shows that only one in 20 men takes primary parental leave after the birth of a child and very few work part-time. Women continue to take time out of their working lives to care for children while men's careers carry on pretty much the same as they did before.

This expectation that mothers are the default primary carers for children is a contributing factor to poorer outcomes for women such as the gender pay gap (currently standing at 14.1 per cent of full-time earnings) and superannuation balances that are on average 42 per cent lower at retirement than for men.

If we really want to address this gender inequity, we need to make it easy for fathers to take on a larger caregiving role at home.

Employers play an enormous role in this shift. A WGEA insight paper into gender-balanced parental leave argued that employers have a crucial role in normalising fathers' utilisation of parental leave and flexible working to meet caring requirements. Critical to fathers' uptake of parental leave was a supportive workplace culture and leadership support.

Employer-led change is happening. Medibank introduced FamilyFlex in 2018, which swaps leave for 'primary' and 'secondary' carers for a universal policy offering 14 weeks' leave to all parents. 'We want to change the story and provide greater flexibility and participation in carer responsibilities regardless of gender. Parental leave disproportionately affects female employees, and it shouldn't,' Medibank Group Executive of People and Culture Kylie Bishop said at the time.


"Every workplace in the country should be family friendly by default. We're accustomed to mothers working part-time — it should be completely normal for fathers to work part-time too."


From 1 July, law firm Baker McKenzie will offer its employees 18 weeks of leave following the birth or adoption