Progress towards shared parenting will help to improve equality between men and women, both at work and at home, according to The Age
columnist Ben Moxham.
Indeed, an international study
showed that a mother's future earnings increased by seven per cent on average over a four-year period, for every month of parental leave the father took.
“The main parental leave debate seems to be how much pay a mother should get, and whether this is affordable,” he said
“Yet, there's precious little discussion on how the scheme could get fathers to take more than a handful of days off to look after a newborn.”
The current system of federal parental leave provides up to 18 weeks pay to the mother at a minimum wage, presently $622 per week. New dads can also access two weeks’ paternity leave at minimum wage.
If the Abbott government's proposed scheme passes Parliament, it will commence on July 1, 2015 and will allow mothers to take up to 26 weeks at their actual wage, capped at $75,000 ($150,000 salary).
Under both schemes, the mother can return to work and transfer her leave entitlements to the baby’s father – although in practice, this happens in fewer than 1 in 20 cases, Moxham said.
While Abbott’s policy reform is generous, it “just entrenches the role of women as chief nappy-changers, while fathers are left to get on with their careers or their golf,” he added.
“Women are more likely to [return to] work in low-paid casual or part-time jobs, to fit around childcare… while pregnancy discrimination was the top complaint taken to the Fair Work Ombudsman in 2012-13,” he said.
These are key reasons why the gender pay gap exists and he believes “shared parenting can help to tackle this”.
Of course, many organisations are already proactive about building comprehensive parental leave policies. At ExxonMobil Australia, for instance, a competitive 15 weeks paid parental leave is offered to the primary caregiver, along with priority access to quality childcare located near the company’s head office.
Suzanne Gare, HR Services Manager at ExxonMobil, credits these policies with the company’s high return to work rate of 96%. She believes ExxonMobil’s programs have been a great success, allowing them to attract, retain and develop the best people.
New dads are often neglected when the discussion turns to parental leave, but giving incentives to proud fathers so they too can tend to their new baby could have far-reaching benefits – including moving closer to pay equality between the sexes.