We’re still working out what support governments should provide modern families.
It’s easy to forget how far we have come in just a few decades. Financial support for new Australian mothers may have been introduced in 1912, but women were required to resign from the workforce on the day they married for many years.
Incredibly, as late as 1972 some women in the public service were still being told they had to quit their job after marriage; the assumption was that they would have children and therefore would not work anymore.
The Whitlam government introduced paid maternity leave for Commonwealth public servants in 1973, but it was not until 1979 when the ACTU fought and won a test case granting 12 months of unpaid maternity leave to all women employees in the public and private sector.
And most recently, the paid parental leave scheme and Dad and partner pay were introduced in 2011 and 2013 respectively, encouraging parents to take greater time off work when children are born.
These changes have increased our overall workforce participation rate. The latest ABS statisticsshow the ACT has a workforce participation rate of 70.5% – well above the national average – with one of the lowest participation gaps between men and women in the country.
However, the experiences of parents trying to balance home and work can vary greatly depending on the attitudes of their managers and employers.
A 2013 study by the Sex Discrimination Commissioner found that 49% of mothers and 27% of fathers experienced discrimination in the workplace at some point during pregnancy, parental leave, or on return to work.
Both fathers and mothers are losing out.
The time women spend in primary care roles makes it harder for them to be hired in jobs at a similar level on their return to the workforce, and greatly reduces their superannuation payouts when they retire.
While discrimination against pregnant women is illegal, stories of positions being made redundant while they are on maternity leave are common, and any woman on a fixed term contract is extremely unlikely to find their role still there on their return.
To their credit, the ACT government specifically forbids the termination of a temporary role while a woman is on maternity leave, and gives them priority access to other roles on their return from leave.
For their part, fathers experience greater pressure to work full-time and take less leave in order to “show commitment” to their job, even though one in three fathers want greater care responsibilities for their children.
Just this year BHP denied its male employees access to paid leave as the primary caregiver for their children.
All this helps to explain why 41 percent of mothers of pre-schoolers made a request for altered working hours, compared with just 15 percent of Australian fathers.
Employees that are parents still want to work hard, but they need employment arrangements that value outcomes over the number of hours spent at work. Workplaces that allow limited personal calls, time-shifting of work outside of normal hours, remote working arrangements, and allow employees to do family-related tasks during work hours or break time reduce stress on parents and increase loyalty to their employer.