Monthly Archives: April 2014

Stand up Australia. Our working mums and dads deserve better – 1 in 2 mothers and 1 in 4 fathers experience discrimination in the workplace

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An astounding and worrying statistic emerged last week from the National Survey conducted as part of the Pregnancy and Return to Work National Review. 1 in 2 mothers and 1 in 4 fathers experience discrimination in the workplace.

Equally astonishing is the perceived lack of outrage expressed in the media – in fact, there’s been barely any follow up after the initial headlines aired in the mainstream news. Why is this?

If we follow recent history of discrimination faced by footballers on the field or other media personalities, the news coverage for the story can last for days until the perpetrator is named and shamed. Shaming here isn’t the point (awareness and change are) but it does highlight how inconsistent our values and standards can be. Ordinary mums and dads face discrimination every day – at a stage in their lives when many are vulnerable both emotionally and financially. These parents are expected to juggle it all and suffer in silence as they raise our next economy-boosting generation and future leaders (who will, let’s not forget, be tackling our looming aged care crisis).

This issue is far too important to be dropped – the silence must be lifted which is why it’s imperative we make the statistics count while they are fresh.

So, to reiterate – 50% of today’s mothers are experiencing workplace discrimination. These aren’t mothers from two generations ago, when awareness was low and laws were non-existent. This is happening right now. For fathers the figure sits at 27% (also astounding considering the majority take less than 4 weeks for parental leave).

The survey

The Review included an Australia-wide national consultation process and two national surveys. One survey looks at women’s perceived experiences of discrimination in the workplace as a result of their pregnancy, request for or taking of parental leave, and their return to work following parental leave. The second survey looked at experiences of fathers and partners that have taken time off work to care for their child under the ‘Dad and Partner Pay’ scheme.


The most commonly reported discrimination for mothers occurred during:

  • Return to work (35%)
  • Requesting or on parental leave (32%)
  • During pregnancy (27%)

For fathers:

  • During parental leave (20%)
  • Return to work (17%)

The Review found the following forms of discrimination most prevalent:

  • Negative attitudes and comments about breastfeeding or working part-time or flexibly
  • Being denied requests to work flexibly
  • Threatened with or experienced dismissal or redundancy
  • Reductions in salary
  • Missing out on training and professional development
  • Missed promotional opportunities
  • Health and safety related discrimination

The impact on parents

The Review found that 84% of mothers experienced a significant negative impact on one or more of the following:

  • Mental health (increased stress, reduced confidence and self-esteem)
  • Physical health
  • Career and job opportunities
  • Financial stability
  • Families

Specifically 42% of women reported that the discrimination had a financial impact on them and 41% felt it impacted on their career and job opportunities. Many women either left the workforce altogether or changed employer due to the discrimination.

For fathers 61% reported a negative impact on their mental health, 42% reported that it had a negative impact on their families and 37% said that this had a negative financial impact.

The impact on organisations

Sex Discrimination Commissioner, Elizabeth Broderick comments: “The major conclusion we can draw from this data, is that discrimination has a cost – to women, their families, to business and to the Australian economy and society as a whole.”

The sad fact is the majority of women who experience discrimination do not make a formal complaint (only 8% made a formal complaint within their organisation) resulting in a third of women looking for another job or resigning.

This doesn’t just impact on families but also employers who lose valuable talent, sometimes without a full understanding of why. If productivity efficiency and employee retention are primary goals it makes good business sense for organisations to get on board early with addressing parent related discrimination.

Though the evidence may point out how far we have to go on this issue Commissioner Broderick also emphasized that during the consultations there were a number of employers already implementing ‘dynamic and leading strategies to overcome the challenges and support employees’.

Whilst it’s crucial to recognise the costs and inefficiencies of discrimination it’s also important to learn from those organisations doing the right thing.

Lochiel Crafter, Senior Managing Director, State Street Global Advisors comments: “State Street is committed to supporting women and working parents in the workplace; we believe that maintaining a culture of diversity and inclusion is key to helping our employees feel valued and our business succeed. This training demonstrates our commitment to retaining and developing our people by providing parents returning to work with all of the information and support they need to excel in their roles.” 

The good news is, now that we have the evidence to support what’s happening in Australian workplaces, employers can create tighter strategies and lead the way with more enlightened practices to help reduce the occurrence and impact of discrimination. What’s more, we can use these findings to hone in on the organisations doing the right thing and hold them up as an example of best practice to help guide and inspire others to do the same.

What can be done? 

Best practice organisations are talking, they are implementing family friendly policies and practices, and they are conscientiously starting to shift the negative cultural influences around the issue.

It’s those proactive organisations we celebrate at Parents@Work (sister organisation to Mums@Work) and we’d love to hear more about those doing their best to reduce discrimination – send us a comment and we’ll share your brilliance here.

In the meantime here are our top tips on how to create a family friendly workplace free from discrimination:

For another 5 tips – get your free e-book ‘10 Tips to Creating a Family Friendly Flexible Workplace’ (click on the red button ‘Subscribe + Free E-book’)

The Review’s findings highlight why Parents@Work do what we do. Balancing a career with starting a family can be one of, if not, the most challenging balancing acts a working parent faces. To make it work parents need the support of their employer and colleagues. Thankfully, there are resources – like the Parents@Work Portal™ – and educational sessions – like the Career After Kids Forum – that can help organisations, managers and parents prepare and navigate the most challenging transitions.

Click on the relevant link for more information on the Parents@Work ProgramParents@Work Portal™ or Career After Kids Forum.

For the initial report visit the Human Rights Commission website.

A final report and recommendations of the National Review will be released by mid 2014.

We hope you’ll join us in our endeavour to advocate and push for change to create more family friendly and discrimination free workplaces.

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How to talk to women about their pregnancy, parental leave and return to work

Screen Shot 2014-04-10 at 8.15.43 PMI have recently returned to work after a year’s maternity leave. While in the past I espoused a fair workplace where staff felt valued and free to access their leave entitlements, I now have more of a sense of how this may really look (and feel!) in practice.

So I’ve written this piece for effective managers who want to be supportive of their staff but don’t know where to start. It’s also for staff (primarily mothers but also partners) to use as a basis for thinking through their requirements, expectations and assumptions around parental leave. It’s also particularly timely, given the Australian Human Rights Commission’s recent findings that one in two women (49%) report feeling discriminated against during their pregnancy, parental leave or return to work.

Below are some tips and points to consider in making your workplace one where people feel supported to take leave and keen to return to work.

Remember, these tips are intended as conversation starters – and all women are different. Whereas I was happy to wear figure hugging clothes when pregnant and share with my colleagues how my baby was developing, other women choose their right not to discuss what’s happening to their body at work – and this must be respected. Wait for your colleague, the mother-to-be, to set the tone and show you what she’s comfortable to talk about at work.


Many women choose not to share that they are pregnant until they are past the first trimester, or when it is more likely that the pregnancy will be successful. However, during the first trimester, many women feel unwell, exhausted, and are having to make big life decisions. Knowing where she stands at work can help make that period easier.

Never ask your colleague if she is pregnant. If she’s not, your questions could be highly offensive. If she is, and she has not told you, she will have her reasons. Rather than ask a personal question, it’s better to clearly state your organisation’s policies and she will tell you when appropriate.

Be clear about your organisation’s parental leave policy from the onset. For many people considering parenthood a workplace with a clear parental leave policy is highly valued and might be a reason they choose to work for you, even if they aren’t planning to start a family for many years.

Points for you and your organisation to consider:

  • When do you expect notification that a colleague is pregnant?
  • Who do they notify? Their manager? HR? Is there an officer whom staff can speak to if they’re uncomfortable notifying their manager directly?
  • Do you require they present you with a Certificate of Confinement?
  • From when do you expect them to take leave (how many weeks before the due date)?
  • Can they modify their role to accommodate restricted movement if necessary?
  • How do they apply for parental leave? Is the paperwork readily available?
  • Do you provide paid parental leave in addition to the federal governments’ payments?
  • Will you receive the Centrelink payments on your colleagues’ behalf, and if so, what details will you require?
  • What are your expectations if your colleague needs to attend antenatal appointments or fertility treatment? Are these to be claimed as sick leave? Can they be attended during office hours?
  • If your office is open plan, is there somewhere staff can go if they need to make private phone calls to their doctor or midwife?
  • What is your policy around leave for adoption, multiple births, miscarriage or stillborn babies?
  • Do you clearly state if parental leave is available for same-sex couples?
  • Do you have clear privacy policies to protect sensitive information that your colleague might not want disclosed?
  • Will you backfill the staff member’s position and will they be required to do a handover?
  • What length of leave do you offer?
  • Can they take six months leave (including the parental leave payments) and then negotiate if they take a further 3, 6, 9 months leave without pay? Or if staff are granted a year’s leave, can they return earlier if they choose to?
  • Do you allow staff to bank their annual leave so that they can take it when on parental leave in the future?
  • Can a staff member’s role be modified to accommodate their pregnancy?

Maintaining contact during parental leave

Being proactive and suggesting to your colleague how they could maintain contact, before they take leave, can help them trust they wont be forgotten. Knowing that they are kept in mind and able to hear of significant news when on leave can minimise their sense of isolation, and make their return to work easier.

Points to consider:

  • What are your expectations of your colleague when they’re on leave?
  • Do they notify one person once the baby arrives and that person shares the news with all staff?
  • Will your colleague determine when to initiate contact, or will their manager contact them after a set number of weeks to hear how they are?
  • Will they receive a home visit while on leave?
  • Would they like to opt in to receiving certain emails to their home email address (perhaps newsletters, regular updates, staff news etc)?
  • Will they have access to their work email from home, and what expectations does this establish?
  • Would they like to be consulted if there are any major changes at work (restructure / new clients etc) to make their return to work easier, or would they prefer not to think about work until they are preparing to return?
  • Will your colleague return to the same position they left? Can they return part-time? If so, can you be flexible with the days/hours they work?
  • If they return to a different role, can they apply while on leave, and commence the new role while on leave?
  • Are you open to them returning in a job share capacity? Could another colleague be seconded to job-share with them? What examples of successful flexible arrangements can you model?
  • If training and development sessions are offered to staff, can members on leave return to participate?
  • Can you provide lists of child care centres close to work?

A new parent’s return to work

Returning to work can be something for staff to look forward to when they know how to plan for this stage. All staff should be clear of their flexible work options, and all managers should be adept at supporting staff to find the most effective arrangements. Flexible work arrangements should be consistent and available to all staff – men and women, regardless of role.

Remember that the first few weeks back at work can be emotionally and logistically challenging for your colleague. How can you and your team offer a flexible, responsive practice to support your colleague to return? Consider the following points, and make sure your staff are clear of your policies well before they need to make return to work plans (preferably before they go on leave).

Points to consider:

  • Is there somewhere for women to express and safely store their breast milk? Can you provide flexibility for feeding if the child is located close to the workplace?
  • Can staff make a staggered return? I.e. working one day per week to begin with and gradually picking up more days as childcare becomes available?
  • If working part-time, are the workdays flexible?
  • If working part-time, will the staff member be involved in redesigning the position to make it part-time?
  • Are there other staff working part-time or job-share who can mentor the returning staff member? Do senior staff role model flexible work practices?
  • Do you actively challenge workplace stigma around part-time workers? Is the whole team familiar with your Return To Work strategy?
  • Are your managers trained in implementing your parental leave policy? Do they feel equipped to support staff through each phase?
  • Can you offer access to an Employee Assistance Program?
  • Have you considered sharing online calendars so that staff can field calls for each other? Do staff update their email signatures to indicate work days?
  • Can staff work from home if necessary?
  • If the child is unwell, can staff access Carer’s leave, or do they take a day from their own sick leave entitlements?
  • Are regular meetings held on alternate days to accommodate part-timers?
  • Are meetings held during school hours?
  • Are minutes taken at staff meetings for staff who cannot attend?

For partners

For any family, the flexibility that partners have in taking parental leave is fundamental to the mother being able to fully realise her working options. Partners also need to know where they stand.

Points to consider:

  • Do you offer paid parental leave in addition to that of the government?
  • What paperwork does the partner need to complete?
  • Are they entitled to take leave without pay?
  • Are they able to negotiate part-time employment?
  • How do you support partners who access Primary Carer Leave?

Note: It shouldn’t matter if a couple is opposite or same-sex. And, just as you wouldn’t ask a heterosexual couple how they conceived, it’s not on to ask a same-sex couple.

Your attitude to parental leave contributes to your overall workplace culture. Show an interest in their pregnancy. Let them feel they’re not missing out when on leave. Welcome staff returning from leave. Not just for them, but for the culture of your whole workplace.

How else can you support staff making these transitions? Could you establish a mentor system? Or a new parents group where new mums and dads could talk about their experiences and share tips? How could these experiences further strengthen your workplace culture and create a fantastic team dynamic shared by all?

Use these pointers to develop your own policies, and open up the conversation around parental leave at your workplace. It’s good practice to develop these policies, and regularly seek feedback on them from staff taking parental leave. These can form the basis for staff taking any extended leave and requiring workplace flexibility. Ensure these policies are easily accessible, and that staff can email them to themselves at home so they can read them in privacy if they prefer.

It is no longer acceptable for organisations to be on the backfoot with these policies, thereby putting the pressure on women to think through all these arrangements, from all parties’ perspectives. It is imperative that all managers educate themselves on best practice in this field, and understand what that may look like in their specific workplace.

As well as being a conversation starter in your workplace, please list your own tips in the comments below to further the conversation in the sector more broadly.

By Nina Collins

8 April 2014

Source: Women’s Agenda

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How to be an executive director in your thirties

Women Leaders

Taking on a senior position as a young woman can be a daunting experience, especially when you are in a male dominated industry. To be successful, young executives need to be confident in their abilities, not worry if they say the wrong thing and learn from mistakes along the way.

Speaking from experience, I wouldn’t be the executive director of three companies at age 36 without having jumped in head first and not worrying about my age or gender as a barrier.

Below’s what I’ve learnt about being a young female executive.

Speak up when you know the answer

Often younger women don’t have the confidence to speak up in a meeting and voice their opinions. I remember all too well being in my early twenties, sitting in meetings too scared to take a sip of my coffee, let alone contribute to a conversation! So many times I would listen to observations made by the senior executives in the room that matched my own thinking, yet I was too scared to speak up and have a role.

All you need is two ears and one mouth

What holds most women back is confidence. When you’re young, you can fall into the trap of feeling like you need to prove yourself all the time. You don’t. You’ve been put into the position you’re in because you have talent and experience – people believe you can fulfil the requirements of the position. While you make your thoughts and perspective known, always remember to take on board advice from those around you. A famous quote from the Dalai Lama is: “To only talk and not listen means you’ll only ever know what you already know”.

When forging a career, it’s important to stick to your own path, not take things personally and find someone you trust in your workplace. That someone can help when you’re frustrated and need to vent without having to gossip. One of the worst things, male or female, is to get caught up in gossip. It destroys your confidence, ideas and opportunities.

Knowledge grows confidence

It’s certainly not easy wearing multiple hats and working in different organisations. However, I enjoy the diversity within each of my roles and recommend all young women review where they can take their knowledge and enthusiasm, and apply it to multiple professional opportunities.

This may sound obvious, but knowledge grows confidence. By building your knowledge, expertise and experience, confidence naturally follows. Don’t let a knowledge gap hold you back. Identify what the knowledge gap is and work on it.

Another way to grow your professional career is to enlist the help of a mentor. I have been very privileged to work with some amazing people in my life and I have had several mentors throughout my career. Some have been clients, line managers, CEOs, COOs and suppliers but all have been inspiring and taught me many useful things. I see myself as a sponge and when I see someone I respect; I watch and learn as much as I can while I have the chance to work with them.

As for famous mentors, people I have read and learnt from include Ita Buttrose – a lady in every sense of the word with a determination to succeed that is inspiring – and Sydney Poitier, whose journey before he got into film is incredible and whose calm, considered approach to adversity is admirable.

Having mentors and learning from them really helped me throughout my career. I urge every woman to have a mentor, regardless of their life stage because they can give you that confidence boost to get to the next level.

By: Kellie Northwood

4 April 2014

Source: Women’s Agenda

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The Leadership Shadow – Role modelling gender equality from the top down

Attitude reflects leadership

What is The Leadership Shadow?

  • It’s for all leaders.
  • It’s for all organisations.
  • It’s new.
  • It’s free.
  • It’s the start point for increasing levels of women in leadership positions.

Created by two organisations leading the way on gender diversity in Australia (the Male Champions of Change and Chief Executive Women) The Leadership Shadow is a management tool to help ‘guide leaders who want their every action – their Leadership Shadow – to send the right signal around gender diversity’ (Australian Human Rights Commission, 2014).

There are four elements to the model:

  1. What I say
  2. How I act
  3. What I prioritise
  4. How I measure

Answering a series of questions about each of these elements prompts leaders to think about whether their words and actions are as clear and powerful as they want them to be.

The Leadership Shadow model

Whether your just starting to take a genuine look at gender diversity or simply fine-tuning already established attitudes and behaviours The Leadership Shadow is a useful guide to be up to date with this issue (with the bonus of improving against your organisation’s WGEA’s gender equality indicators).

The proof is in this pudding

Here are a few leaders who have put The Leadership Shadow into practice…

“We are extremely focussed on performance management. We reward those who are embracing our new culture and values and actively manage people who have not. The latter sends the strongest possible message to the organisation—I am walking the talk. You have to do it. Over the years, I have learned that you can’t say that you are going to live by a set of values and then allow the organisation to see that you are not willing to act when the wrong call has been made. People watch carefully all the time.”

Holly Kramer, Chief Executive Officer, Best and Less

“I have learned that a good way to champion flexibility is to make clear that work is about output and impact, not about time at the office. It’s for both women and men, and for any reason, not just for parents.”

Susan Lloyd-Hurwitz, Chief Executive Officer and Managing Director, Mirvac

“The Leadership Shadow gives you a structure to sharpen your approach and demonstrate how you are making diversity a priority. Making progress on gender balance is not yet second nature for many of us. The Leadership Shadow focuses the mind on how to take a leadership position that will drive progress on what is an important social, economic and productivity priority for Australia.”

Simon Rothery, Chief Executive Officer, Goldman Sachs Australia & New Zealand

Where can you get a copy?

The Leadership Shadow Report is available on the Australian Human Rights Commission website. As is The Leadership Shadow Implementation Guide.

We’d love to here your thoughts on this model (i.e. whether you would add or change anything) and what your success or challenges have been in implementing it.

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