Annette Matthews, Head of People and Culture, Shift, writes about parental leave and a sense of priority for Women Love Tech.
2021 has seen some huge changes in corporate Australia’s approach to parental leave.
On one hand, these changes are to be applauded and show a move towards recognising the whole person, not just the part that shows up for work.
On the flipside, they’re a long time coming, given the gender inequality that has existed in workplaces for so long, alongside the unconscious – and conscious – bias shown against people who press pause on their careers to start or grow a family.
As part of my postgraduate studies in the 1990s I explored parental leave policies globally and have done so ever since. While some European nations and parts of Asia have been forward-thinking in their approach, historically the same couldn’t be said for Australia, with governments giving and taking to varying degrees.
Even though we are a young company, established in 2014, here at Shift we recently looked at our own policies across a range of areas from flexible working to parental leave. While going through this process, the experiences of my mother and her colleagues rang clearly in my mind.
A banking and retail executive in the 1960s, my mum saw the same situation play itself out time and time again. A woman would announce her pregnancy, prepare for the journey of childbirth and parenthood and find herself out of a job. Sometimes this process of heading towards the departure lounge started with the announcement of marriage.
When her time came to start a family, my mother was disappointed but not surprised to find herself in the same situation.
What should be one of the most exciting periods in the life of a soon-to-be parent – which may also be one of the most challenging – should not come with an added uncertainty.
This anecdote is all too familiar, even in this day and age, but it’s good to see the need for change being thrown into the spotlight. Statistics from the Australian Government’s Workplace Gender Equality Agency show that the average paid parental leave across all companies is 10.9 weeks, with finance and insurance faring better at 12.1 weeks.
When it comes to overall leave, 77 per cent of companies in finance and insurance pay some sort of primary carer’s leave, while across all companies in Australia that figure drops to 52.4 per cent. It’s clear to see that while progress is made, the work is far from done.
Building momentum loudly
My view is that companies being loud about policies that rightly offer adequate leave is a great thing, not for the quick hit of public kudos, but to build momentum and encourage other companies to get on board.
Even before we announced our own new 26 weeks paid parental leave policy, with additional time for secondary carers and no requirement regarding the gender of primary and secondary carers, a wave of change had been starting to build across industries. Policies which are worlds apart from the old status quo are starting to entrench themselves within companies with the right mindset.
Adding to this momentum is the move by industry bodies to outline recommended policies for sectors. For instance, FinTech Australia earlier this year recommended that fintech companies offer 12 weeks paid parental leave, with two weeks for partners.
Such moves by industry bodies help positively steer whole sectors in the right direction and encourage change across the board.
Turning the great resignation into the great retention
As someone who leads people and culture at a fast-growing tech company engaged in a war for talent, it also makes absolute smart business sense to offer the right level of parental leave. Such initiatives add to the appeal of roles for candidates and also drives loyalty.
With talk of a great resignation in our midst, people will naturally be attracted to companies that show they value staff, have the right sense of priority and recognise that career is one part of an employee’s life.
Annette Matthews is Head of People and Culture at Shift, an Australian technology company providing credit and payment platforms for businesses.