Aussie Dads and Parental Leave Equality

Last month I was invited to attend the launch of ‘Aussie Dads’, a photo exhibition showcasing dads spending time with their young children through paid parental leave. It is something that a lot of the major corporates have had a policy on for a few years now, but the uptake is still low. The WGEA (Workplace Gender Equality Agency) also launched a campaign on shared parental leave to help to break down the stigma of men taking time off to spend with their kids.

What was most refreshing about this event was how authentic and open the speakers were. Several senior male executives talked about their own experiences of being fathers in a corporate environment, and the challenges associated with maintaining a balance. One of the most astounding facts that I took away was from the CEO of Spotify who explained that both parents receive 6 months of fully paid parental leave in their organisation globally; and this can be taken at any time and in any format up until the child reaches the age of 3. They have 4,000 employees globally, but receive in excess of 20,000 job applications a month! That might make for a recruitment experience nightmare! but it is an impressive indicator of one way to attract new hires.

Emma Walsh, who runs Parents At Work has written a great summary of the event below…

There was a pretty special feeling inside the Sydney Opera House, as these corporate, high-profile businessmen sat on stage and spoke about parental leave- partly as employers or employees- but primarily, as dads.

In an Australian first, business leaders gathered last week to kick-start a conversation about shared parental leave. The event featured the debut of Johan Bävman’s Aussie Dads exhibition, the launch of the Workplace Gender Equality Agency (WGEA) Best Practice Employer Guide to Shared Parental Leave and the launch of the new Parents At Work Whitepaper on introducing shared care in Australia.

The raw responses from the attendees as the speakers shared their stories proved the importance of this discussion. When Libby Lyons, Director of WGEA said “I hate this primary – secondary carer thing. We’re all just parents aren’t we?”, the audience nodded in agreement.

When Georgina Dent, Journalist and MC of the event said “It’s time to ditch ‘primary’ and ‘secondary’ carers, which enforces the breadwinner model where men are to work and women are to care”, the audience nodded in agreement.

When Richard Deutsche, CEO of Deloitte said “This discussion is so important to change the attitudes. To take away fear and give safety”, again, the audience smiled and nodded in agreement.

It was clear from the outset that this was an audience of leaders who were engaged with and passionate about parental leave equality.

Dr Vijay Roach, Obstetrician and Chairman of the Gidget Foundation brought tears to many eyes through his authentic speech. Diane Utatao of D&I Consulting said “Vijay’s speech delivered so many heartfelt and insightful messages – there wasn’t a dry eye at our table. He raised a very valuable and poignant reminder about the postnatal stress and anxiety that affects many men after childbirth”.

Jane Huxley (CEO of Spotify) joined Richard Burton (CFO Business Bank, Westpac), Richard Deutsch (CEO, Deloitte), Ross Yabsley (Westpac Dad) and Justin Algie (Deloitte Dad) in a panel discussion.

Jaws dropped as Jane spoke about Spotify’s Scandinavian- inspired generous parental leave policy, which offers 6 months paid leave to be taken until the child is 3 years old. Richard Deutsch spoke about Deloitte’s steps in backing their working fathers, including facilitating flexible work for men, such as taking 2 days per week over an extended period, as opposed to 18 consecutive weeks

As a country, our parental leave policies are lagging light years behind other OECD nations. WEGA’s latest Gender Equality Scorecard for 2016–2017, which includes data from non-public sector employers with 100+ employees only, reveals that only 4.7% of employees who took primary carer’s leave were men while 94.8% of employees who took secondary carer’s leave were men. The Government Dad and Partner Pay scheme is also extremely under-utilised, with just 1 in 3 dadstaking it up.

As the attendees shook hands and shared experiences at the event, it was clear to everyone that change is wanted. And needed.

The change the nation is yearning for is being trail-blazed by dads like Ross Yabsley (Westpac) and Justin Algie (Deloitte). Both men featured in the Aussie Dads Exhibition photographs, and spoke from the heart about their parental leave experiences. Ross said his hope is that it will become the norm for men to take time off, just like he did with his son Charlie for 2 months. Justin couldn’t imagine not sharing the care of his gorgeous twins, having been on 2 months leave and then working flexibly every Friday for 12 months.

The panelists all noted the lack of male role models for Australian fathers taking parental leave. Movements like this, and the Aussie Dads Exhibition are providing a platform for dads to feel empowered and relate to others in their position. Libby Lyons said “Only 6% of managers work part time. So if we’re ever going to change this, and close the Gender Pay Gap, what needs to change is our attitude to parental leave, and who takes it, and for how long.” Richard Deutsch also made the point that “culture is everything” within an organisation, in employees truly feeling supported in their decisions.

There is so much truth in this. Employers play a key role in raising awareness around parental leave equality. Changing policies and crucially, workplace culture, to ensure dads feel comfortable asking for, and taking parental leave. As Libby said, it is also vital to have these role models. Employers should encourage those in positions of leadership to model the parental leave policies through their own decisions, doing what is best for them and their family. This will inevitably reduce the stigma, attitude and unsureness father’s are facing today.

We’ve received some beautiful feedback on the event:

“What a fabulous event! The advocacy work you have done on shared parental leave and involving Dads in the story has been tremendous. Also, I wanted to let you know the feedback from our Dad who is on your coaching program has been so positive!” – Rani Nanden, Page Group

“What a privilege to be involved, stories help to change perceptions and wow the story telling at this event was amazing. Congrats on such a wonderful event and initiative – the Aussie Dads campaign will amplify such an important conversation. Thank you for inviting Westpac to be part of it.”- Felicity Duffy, Westpac

“Great to be at the launch of the first ever Aussie Dads photo exhibition at Sydney Opera House, thanks to Deloitte, Westpac and Parents At Work, promoting men taking parental leave and working flexibly. When less than 5% of male parents take time to be the primary carer, and over 40% of men are uncomfortable asking for any parental leave at all (!!!) we’ve got much work to do!”- Ross Wetherbee, CBA

Please read some of the fantastic media articles on the event:

  • ABC News – Fathers’ trailing in equal primary parental leave spurs Aussie dads exhibit by Swedish photographer
  • Sydney Morning Herald – ‘Rewarding, scary, exciting, tiring and challenging’
  • Women’s Agenda – The power of men talking about managing fatherhood & work
  • 9 Honey – Sydney dad on the importance of gender-neutral parental leave policies
  • The Australian – Culture around parental leave needs to change
  • Westpac – Dads on parental leave? Not normal…yet
  • Deloitte – Deloitte backing dads to take parental leave
  • HSBC – Why Aussie Dads should take more parental leave
  • Lendlease – Take the time (off!) to cherish the dimples!
  • SJB Architects – SJB Sydney implements 10-week full-pay parental leave
  • Women’s Agenda – The role leaders can play in helping new parents return to work

Parents At Work Whitepaper: Advancing Parental Leave Equality and Introducing Shared Care in Australia

WGEA: Developing a Leading Practice Parental Leave Policy, a guide for employers

Parents At Work and Johan Bävman produced the Aussie Dads Photography Exhibition with the support of Westpac, Deloitte, Lendlease, Scentre Group, KPMG, PwC, HSBC, Gilbert + Tobin, Macquarie Bank, Karitane, Embassy of Sweden, and the Swedish-Australian Chamber of Commerce.