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In Australia, all employees are currently entitled to parental leave provided that they have worked for their employer for at least 12 months (this is slightly different for casual workers). 

This entitles employees to to 12 months of unpaid parental leave. As well as this, the government will give eligible employees who are the primary carer of a newborn (or an adopted child) up to 18 weeks’ leave paid at the national minimum wage – as per the Government’s Paid Parental Leave Scheme – which can be taken at the same time as your unpaid leave as the two are seperate and unaffected by one another. 

Eligible working dads and partners can also get 2 weeks leave paid at the national minimum wage. There is a great summary guide available here if you are wanting to know more about your parental leave rights.

So, at the moment, there is no legal obligation for Australian small businesses to provide paid leave to their employees (both male and female) for parental purposes – it is a choice for each business to make on their own accord, in line with their brand values and culture.

Maternity and paternity leave can be a sensitive and passionate topic to debate. Today we asked industry leaders whether they believe business can better support maternity leave, and there are some great first-hand experiences and helpful tips to learn from.

Dionne Niven, Global Head of People at SiteMinder

Returning to work after maternity leave is harder than what many women anticipate. Having a child is a major life event and if the transition back to their role is too difficult, many will decide that it doesn’t make sense to return at all.

Across my career, I’ve heard managers reference the “cost” and “disruption” of maternity leave, a mentality that only serves to exacerbate an environment of anxiousness about self-worth and job security.

When this happens and individuals ultimately choose a different path, organisations not only lose crucial experience and knowledge; they limit the diversity and progression of their entire workforce.

It’s important we intellectually reframe maternity leave as an investment, rather than a cost or inconvenience, throughout Australian workplaces.

Practical initiatives such as phased returns, detailed transition plans and buddy systems are all imperative steps, which when implemented in an environment of open dialogue before, during and on return from maternity leave, will achieve the best outcomes for both the returning mum and the business in the long-term.

Isabella Zamorano, Senior Employment Relations Adviser, Employsure

Businesses can do more to ensure fairness for women on maternity leave or returning to work mums across three key aspects.

  1. Address bias in career-building activities:
  • ensure access to training and development opportunities, ‘stretch’ projects, formal/informal mentoring and networking
  • ensure performance incentives and rewards do not exclude those in part-time work or on maternity leave
  • ensure promotion, recognition and rewards are not solely linked with those doing long/full-time working hours
  1. Address the disadvantage that can arise from taking a career break:
  • ensure pay reviews do not create extended disadvantage for women taking a career break
  • ensure compliance with return to work rights after maternity leave including the right to return to the same job as well as support for reintegration into the workforce
  • support those on a career break including keep-in-touch arrangements, not deactivating email accounts, providing updates of team and company changes, and on return to work, projects that provide challenges, and debriefings where meetings occur on non-work days
  1. Address lack of work/life balance:
  • ensure culture, policies and practices are in place aroun work/life balance
  • ensure the leadership and management team model good work/life balance
  • avoid a culture that rewards employees solely on the basis of long working hours

David Cooke, Managing Director, Konica Minolta Australia

All businesses have an opportunity and responsibility to create a more equal and supportive environment for all parents in the workplace.

Welcoming a new child into the family is one of the best times of any person’s life, and it’s simply unfair not to provide equal access to paid leave during this time. Separating parents into primary and secondary categories, which are so often allocated to women and men respectively, not only reinforces entrenched gender roles, but has the knock-on effects of men finding it more difficult to request parental leave, and women being apprehensive about returning to work due to career stagnation.

In recognition of this, Konica Minolta Australia has recently introduced its new parental leave policy, which provides 12 weeks paid leave for either parent, and that is able to be taken at any time, and in any way, over the first three years of the birth or adoption of a child.

Kirstin Hunter, Managing Director, Future Super

Not only can businesses better support maternity leave, they should. 

When the average woman retires with 47% less superannuation than men, and mothers a whopping 60% less than fathers, extended time off is a luxury few can afford. What’s more, employers don’t have to pay super during maternity leave, and Protect Your Super (PYS) legislation renders super accounts inactive when no contributions are made over 16 months — the average time taken for maternity leave.

This is whyFuture Super introduced BabyBump— an initiative that rebates membership fees to new parents for up to twelve months. It’s a small but meaningful step in making super fairer and maternity leave more accessible.

Women shouldn’t be penalised for taking time to raise their children. It’s necessary for us all to have time with our parents, normally mothers, at the beginning of life. BabyBump helps make sure women are supported to do this important job. Businesses of all shapes and sizes are more than capable of following suit.

Kirsty Jackson, Chief Marketing Officer, Cohort Go

When it comes to maternity leave, it’s not a one-size-fits-all proposition. Not every new mother wants to approach maternity leave in the same way, and the same can be said for businesses and the maternity leave entitlements they are able to offer. This doesn’t mean that all businesses can’t do more to support their staff members during leave. There are certainly things that businesses who can’t afford to fund a paid package are able to do in order to better support or utilise the Government’s Paid Parental Leave entitlements.

With the inclusion of up to 10 paid “keeping in touch” days, all workplaces can better enable their team members to remain engaged and empower their staff taking maternity leave. You can offer new mothers the opportunity to attend your next strategy day, team training sessions, or conferences. When my son was just four weeks old, the chance arose to host the company’s quarterly strategy session at my home. In my sleep-deprived state, I thought “why not?”, and jumped at the chance. Looking back, having the support of my team to participate in this session set the foundation for a smooth return to work.

Sarah Assafiri, APAC People Lead, Square

While Australia is fortunate to have a Government that ensures new parents are eligible to receive paid time off work, we still have a way to go to improve gender leave parity, flexible return to work options, and education for leaders on how to support their employees during such an important time. At Square, we take an equal gender approach by providing new mothers and fathers the same paid leave in addition to government supported options.

Square’s company-wide unlimited leave policy is also available to all employees if they feel they need additional time away.The transition back to work requires flexibility and support, so we encourage leaders to stay connected with new parents and include them in planning days, training sessions, and key team events. This helps them stay connected with their teams and also positively reduces the time required to catch up once back at work.

Shirvani Mudaly, Chief People Officer, Vend

Becoming a new parent is arguably one of the toughest gigs going, that’s why successful businesses that truly value their staff and foster a supportive culture when it comes to parental leave, will become sought after employers.

There are three key areas where businesses can play a huge role in supporting employees who become new parents, they are: allowing parents to spend time with new family members, additional financial support, and job security for peace of mind.

At Vend, we provide six weeks additional paid leave as well as support secondary caregivers with time and financial support. On top of this, we give new parents a care package. At Vend, it’s not unusual to see an Instagram photo of the newborn wearing their Vend onesie!

Gemma Lloyd, co-CEO of WORK180

Firstly, we should be throwing out archaic terms such as maternity and paternity and replacing them with parental leave. It should be accessible to everyone regardless of gender.

Traditional norms of the male breadwinner model have for too long underpinned policies towards family support and childcare, and are increasingly out of touch with what modern families want — and need.

Employers, particularly small businesses, may often not provide paid parental leave due to costs, but when you do the financial modelling, providing paid parental leave increases employee retention and is much less than hiring and training new employees.

No Moss, a boutique consultancy specialising in tech and innovation, is a great example of a start-up with 20 employees, and they offer 6 weeks paid for primary carers and 2 weeks paid for secondary carers. If a startup can do it, all businesses should be doing it. The key is to see parental leave as a long-term investment and not a liability.

Coleen MacKinnon, Advisor, Male Champions of Change, Principal, InQ

The short answer is yes. The longer answer is in response to perhaps a more topical question in 2019: Can businesses better support parental leave. 

The second last OECD nation to offer a national paid parental leave (PPL) program (the U.S. is still holding out), Australia’s scheme is both gendered and relatively scant. While similar jurisdictions like Canada and the UK offer non-gendered (unattributed) leave of 35 and 39 weeks respectively, Australia offers 18 weeks ‘primary carer’ and two weeks ‘secondary carer’ (also known as dad and partner) leave. As the terminology suggests, it is predominantly dads accessing the latter with only one in 20, or 5% of men taking up the role of primary carer. And this sets a precedent with long-term implications: women spend more time in unpaid work (domestic and childcare), are more likely to work part-time, and will retire with 40% less superannuation, on average, than their male counterparts.  And despite an increasing number of men—particularly young dads—who express a desire to spend more time with family, many cite financial pressures and stigma as impediments.

So, what can employers do?

  • First, offer paid parental leave in addition to the national scheme. Less than half (48%) of employers offer PPL despite growing evidence that ample parental leave contributes to greater employee retention and satisfaction—a small investment for a worthwhile outcome.
  • Second, encourage and normalise the notion of men sharing parental leave. A growing number of companies now offer ‘shared care’ parental leave whereby men and women are offered equal parental leave. Based on 12 weeks each, a common scenario is dad or partner spending the first four weeks with mom and baby to support one another, and the remaining eight weeks at the end of mom’s 12-week leave to provide support as she returns to work.
  • Third, consider parental leave a health and welfare issue. Men and women both benefit from more balanced work and family lives. Evidence suggests that men in gender equal relationships report better mental and physical health outcomes and improved relationships with partners and children. For women, more support from partners and employers equate to greater workforce participation and long-term economic security. A win-win for all.

Ilter Dumduz, CEO & Founder, Blys 

My wife and I each run our own businesses and are raising two young kids, so maternity leave is a topic that deeply resonates with me. I am very familiar with the challenges that come along with transitioning into a working parent.

I believe that there are certain steps a company can take to ease this transition, not only during and immediately after pregnancy, but for parenthood in general. Offering paternity leave or support is absolutely crucial if we want our employees to feel comfortable in this new stage of their lives.

Unfortunately, most new mums find themselves alone with minimal support just two weeks after pregnancy, when their partner is required to head back to work.
Another simple but effective level of support companies can offer to all parents is the option to work remotely. In fact, 50% of our team works from home. This requires an outcome-focused mindset. We have seen the overall positive effects of flexible / remote working options through several mums that work on our team at Blys.

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Loren Webb

Loren Webb

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