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In Australia, partners can face several obstacles when it comes to accessing and taking parental leave. In many instances, there are few parental leave options available to partners who desire to spend quality time with their young families. The National Paid Parental scheme for example, only provides partners with two weeks off at a minimum wage rate. In addition, those who wish to access their own organisation’s schemes may also find these extremely lacking, with recent data estimating that over 50% of Australian organisations do not offer any form of paid primary carer’s leave at all (Workplace Gender Equality Agency, 2018). Furthermore, of those that do offer primary carer policies, these are often biased towards gender, predominantly focusing on mothers only (Parents at Work, 2018).
Many companies have shifted from offering “Maternity” leave to “Parental” leave, in an effort to be more gender neutral. Nevertheless, what seems more neutral in theory (e.g. partners could take up these policies in theory), is more commonly gender biased in practice (i.e mostly taken up by women). What are the implications? First, a lack of equal access to parental leave policies continues to perpetuate societal stereotypes related to traditional gender roles of care giving and bread-winning. Second, organisations fail to reap the espoused benefits of a flexible and inclusive working environment where each parent can actively participate in child-caring. As a consequence, some organisations have started to introduce parental leave policies which facilitate “shared care”, offer extended periods of take up, and on a full-time or part-time basis. Is that having the desired effect of encouraging more men to take up parental leave?
To explore this question we spoke with Andrew Scerri, father to two young boys (Harvey – 4 years, Fletcher – 2 years) and National Sustainability Manager of Development for Property at Lendlease, a multinational construction, property and infrastructure company. Andrew has used Lendlease’s parental leave policy twice, and we were intrigued to understand the impact on his family, and work/life.
Q. What is the parental policy offered by your employer and how did you apply it?
Andrew: At Lendlease, all partners who are the primary caregiver have 18 weeks parental leave available to them. With both my kids, I used two weeks initially, and then took 16 weeks with both children when they were just about to turn one year old. It was a fantastic experience. I was able to spend time with both my children at an important time in their life, enabling my wife to also return to work sooner. It’s a great policy.
Q. Were there particular features of the parental policy and/or workplace culture that encouraged you to use the policy? If so, what were these?
Andrew: There are a lot of senior leaders that access parental leave benefits across Lendlease. It’s becoming increasingly relevant and more common. The stigma around taking parental leave is reducing within the industry –and definitely at Lendlease. I think it’s now more culturally accepted that men play a more active role in care-giving when their kids are young. And importantly for your partner, it may also provide them with an opportunity to return to work sooner! That’s why there’s now a lot more support from within the business and our employees. Policies have been in place for a long time at Lendlease but we are definitely seeing more traction now with more people taking the leave – especially with senior leaders acting as role models.
Q. What impact did the parental leave have on you and your family?
Andrew: It meant having the opportunity to spend four amazing months with my kids in their first 12 months of life – which was so special. The best part being at this age is that they were starting to explore the world and learn new things. To be part of that experience was very important to me. A growing body of research shows a father’s role during the early stages of life can have a profound impact on kids for their long-term future. I think spending time with my kids and creating that bond with them is very special and can help set them up for success in later years.
Q. What impact did the parental leave have on your work/career?
Andrew: I felt that there was no significant negative impact on my work/career. The business knows when you are going on leave, you ensure you give them enough warning so that both parties can prepare and plan for it. The most important part is that – when you’re on leave, you switch off completely. I find it can be sometimes difficult for men to make the decision around parental leave. Even though attitudes have changed, there still remains a stigma about men being the primary income earners of the household, and this perception remains something a lot of men continue to battle with in relation to taking parental leave.
I’ve personally found that when you actually get into the leave, you need to let go of all of those thoughts – you realise you are there to look after the kids and support them. That was an interesting realisation for me especially the first time I took parental leave. And the second time I took leave I was more focused on spending quality time and tried to enjoy every minute of it. Furthermore, when I returned to work – I felt much more re-energised and engaged!
Q. Did you have any concerns when you were on parental leave and away from work?
Andrew: There were no concerns for me. I returned to the role I had prior to parental leave and taking leave did not negatively impact my career. There are policies and processes in place to have transparent conversations and those returning from leave are well supported to consider alternative options including flexibility.
To guide me through the process and experience, there were also leaders I could reach out to. I knew a number of mentors who had previously taken parental leave so I approached them for advice. Each time I asked them whether I should take parental leave, they would always say go for it, you don’t get that time again!
Q. Do you know more others at Lendlease who are planning to take leave?
Andrew: A lot of people approach me now to ask for advice on parental leave. There are a Parents at Work video available online that shares my own and another Dad’s story. Since that video has been released, Dads internally who are considering parental leave now approach me for advice. I’ll always encourage them to take leave.
Q. What can other organisations – and other working fathers learn from your experience?
Andrew: To organisations: Lendlease offering this parental leave policy acknowledges the important role partners play in raising their kids. I’m very proud of Lendlease and how they look after all employees. Coming back from leave you’re really motivated and energised in your role and there are productivity gains in this as well. Any organisation offering such a policy will see many positive benefits.
To partners: One thing I’d say to people who are thinking about taking the leave is that you’ll always have work, but you won’t get time again with your kids. Spending time with them in their first 12 months is so important. I would challenge anyone to think about the last four months of their role– and reflect on what has been most memorable. When I think about the four months that I spent with my kids, I saw them walk their first steps as a real standout amongst other memories that I have with my kids in their first 12 months that I’ll never forget. Those are memories that I would not have had if I decided to not take parental leave. Work is work, we’ll all have work for another 20-30 years but you only get the first 12 months with your kids once.
For further information on this article, please contact Shilpa Didla
Advancing Parental Leave Equality and Introducing Shared Care in Australia (N.D)., Parents at Work, Accessed via https://aussiedads.parentsatwork.com.au/
Employers need to care more about carers (2018), Workplace Gender Equality Agency, Accessed via https://www.wgea.gov.au/newsroom/latest-news/employers-need-to-care-more-about-carers
Shilpa is passionate about creating an inclusive and supportive work environment and contributes to D&I initiatives and thought leadership. Her key strengths include qualitative analysis, executive presentations, business writing, and people development.