Cybersecurity firm Penten strives for 50/50 gender split

The company has gone way beyond equal paid parental leave

Cybersecurity firm Penten strives for 50/50 gender split

Australian cybersecurity firm Penten has bucked the industry trend in the gender make-up of its workforce as the company lays out ambitious plans to achieve a 50/50 split.

Located in Canberra, the organisation currently has a 26% female workforce – double the average for the APAC cybersecurity sector – but is on a journey to reaching 50%. In 2019, the company introduced 26 weeks of paid parental leave for either primary or secondary carer, as well as unlimited paid sick, carer’s, reservist and domestic violence leave.

Kim Burns, Head of People and Culture at Penten, said the company’s main principle is to continually do better for their employees.

“One of the problems I have seen in the past is that policies don’t flex and people can’t always use them in a way that meets their needs,” she told HRD. “There are also often a lot of hoops to jump through.

“At Penten we treat people like adults and trust that they will do the right thing. We recognise that everyone is an individual with different wants and needs and we try to do the right thing and provide initiatives that allow our people to use them in a way that works best for them.”

Read more: Flexible working: Is it given or is it earned?

Since introducing the equal leave policy, 11 men and six women have taken or are due to take their 26 weeks paid parental leave in a way that suits their family. The high number of men taking parental leave at Penten is indicative that if men have the option to take paid parental leave, they will not miss the opportunity.

Ananth Naidu, a Systems Engineer at Penten, was able to split up his 26 weeks of parental leave around his family’s needs. Naidu said this flexibility has been instrumental in building a close family bond with his new daughter, Elina, while supporting his wife to balance her career and home-life.

He initially took a month of paid leave to be at home with his wife and new daughter before returning to work full time while his mother-in-law visited. Then he took another three months off before returning to the office on a part-time basis, working four days per week until the balance of the parental leave had been used. 

“One of the main benefits that Penten's parental leave provided was that it allowed my wife to return back to the workforce to progress her career sooner than we thought. This was possible because Penten offered me complete flexibility in how I chose to take the 26 weeks,” Naidu said.

Burns also recently returned to work after a six-month block of parental leave following the birth of her son Mylo. She eased back into work at three days a week initially, before expanding to four and will eventually return to full time when the time is right for her and her family.

“Flexibility in how our people take leave is what they appreciate the most. It’s one thing to say we offer 26 weeks parental leave, but it is another to then offer the leave in any way they require it,” she said. “We have had staff take blocks of leave, take their leave as a part-time arrangement or completely mix it up in a way that suits them. Life is not structured, parental leave should not be either.”

Read more: Ageism in the workplace: Speaking up about Australia's silent bias

Beyond the leave allowance, Penten also recognised that time away from the workplace – and particularly the drop in superannuation payments - has a detrimental effect on the gender gap. According to ABS data, in 2019-2020, 36% of retired women relied on their partner’s income to meet their living costs at retirement compared to just 7% of men.

Penten considered this issue when creating their parental leave policy and the company now offers paid superannuation to any parent who takes unpaid time off during a baby’s first year. Burns believes these progressive policies and the company’s family-friendly culture contribute to Penten’s high retention rate. At 97%, it stands at around 5.5% higher than the national average.

“We want to create a welcoming place for all the family so our people feel like they can bring their whole selves to work,” she added.

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