Sebastian Revell, Chief Strategy Officer, TBWA Sydney
With all of our family and the majority of friends overseas, there was a slight apprehension that the support that my partner and I would need when our daughter arrived six months ago would not be there.
But our biggest headache actually came in trying to come to terms with the parental leave systems that seemed to have been created at a time when the “Honey, I’m home!” Trope, was still a reality.
So at first glance, it’s great to see agencies promoting improvements to their parental leave policies. But looking deeper, it’s hard not to view these improvements (invariably adding an extra week or two) instead of just updates, which are ultimately symbolic healing gestures that lack the real, practical care that new parents need.
With all the best of intentions, they are treating the symptom, not the problem. Industry agitator Rishad Tobaccowala proclaimed in his 2013 4A keynote address, “The future does not fit into the containers of the past.”
Policy updates recognize that more help is needed to better balance the demands of work and life today. However, they don’t change enough where it would make the biggest difference; at the wholesale structural level.
The problem starts with the very definition of parental leave in the first place, which is no longer suited to its purpose and is out of step and poorly defined in relation to the values ââwe defend today.
They put labels on a parent’s love.
In Australia, as in many other countries, parental leave is currently defined by âprimaryâ and âsecondaryâ caregiver labels.
Imagine if our kids introduced us to their friends like âthis is my primary and this is my secondaryâ. Besides being pretty cool in a sci-fi sense, that wouldn’t be that great. But of course, there are no shared definitions in their eyes; equality is assumed because it is their natural understanding of things.
Only our culture fuels inequality, not our nature.
These definitions present a gray area where one really shouldn’t exist. Because if you are a mother or a father, adoptive or biological, gay or straight; a new parent is a new parent. It’s the only label that matters.
Not surprisingly, statistics show that women are more often the “primary” caregivers and men the “secondary”. As such, all of these labels serve to define parental identity by applying the old-fashioned gender roles of men as âbreadwinnersâ and women as âhousewivesâ.
This has a profound ripple effect, as literally (primarily) defining men as a âsecondaryâ parent (with inferior leave entitlements) does not allow them to equally support the education of a child. It contributes to the toxic ideals of what it means to be a man and does nothing to improve perceptions and acceptance of a man’s place in the household.
Sweden recognized how disconnected fathers were in family life, so they introduced 480 days off at 80% of salary for both parents, regardless of gender. The men were also given 90 days of full pay to encourage bonding at an early stage.
As we move forward with women in the workplace (although there is still a long way to go for equal pay and leadership representation), we should also improve opportunities for men in the home. The two must work in unison, because they are interrelated and reciprocal.
Shared and gender-neutral parental leave will influence not only more equal parenting roles, but also more equal career roles.
Libby Lyons, former director of the Workplace Gender Equality Agency, says: âRemoving labels and implementing gender-neutral paid parental leave will help remove the stigma and barriers to men who are not active fathers to the career progression experienced by women as a result of the extended breaks taken in those early years of parenthood.
If more women could see other women being better supported in their return to work, then we could stop putting them in unnecessary positions, even thinking about having to choose between prioritizing their career or their job. family.
Just as if more men saw their male peers take extended time off, they would also be more inclined to take time off and not see it as emasculating.
Deloitte Australia removed the primary and secondary labels a few years ago and reports that it “has dramatically removed the misconception that parental leave was only for women”.
It’s not just ideology; it is a good economy.
Michael Kim, APAC Human Resources Manager at Spotify, notes that âwhen we launched the parental leave program [genderless 6 months full pay and a relaxed âwelcome backâ part-time schedule] Two years ago, one of the first interesting things we saw in the data was a significant spike in external applications from candidates who wanted to join Spotify. “
Research by the Australian Institute of Family Studies has established strong links between improved parental leave policies and business performance, namely more positive work-life balances, productivity and satisfaction. at work, as well as greater retention and recruitment of talent.
Each year in Australia, $ 385 million is lost in avoidable recruiting costs. As an industry known for having its fair share of churns, as well as an impending company change to The Great Resignation, this is where we should be paying close attention.
For us, shared and gender neutral parental policies would benefit our talents who leave the industry because they do not feel supported enough in their family commitments, to come back.
Shared and gender neutral parenting policies would also benefit our bosses, who fear losing top talent who prioritize family. Or companies that offer more progressive and flexible working practices.
The Sydney Morning Herald recently reported that “a study by Equity Economics found that if the federal government offered 12 months of paid parental leave to be shared equally among parents, it would increase gross domestic product by $ 116 billion. by 2050, and it is simply because of higher participation and productivity of the female workforce.
For Ted Lasso fans, it’s time to be a goldfish with our current parental leave policies. We have to forget what happened before, where incremental updates are simply applauded over what already exists.
Improving parental leave is not our responsibility. Yet we are a collective of creative minds who pride themselves on innovation and value retention of talent.
So perhaps we are not only in the best position, but it is also in our best interests to take the lead in making significant structural changes to parental leave policies. Where we can be part of a solution that can help influence greater equality at home and at work.