Category Archives: Real Working Parent Stories

What does the new ‘family package’ mean for employers? Importantly, how do working parents feel about it?

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The new childcare and parental leave initiatives have possibly been the most controversial and emotive of Budget 2015.

The Government’s intention is to encourage parents to do more paid work. Sounds good for the economy right? But is it really? And at what expense does it come to our children, working parents and employers?

[Hot news update: 34 leaders and 21 organisations have joined forces to ask government to abandon its proposed changes to PPL. Read more here. Updated: 22.5.2015]

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City Dad on taking extended paternity leave

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City Dad, Adrian Dyer, on taking extended paternity leave to put his family first, taking a step back and focusing on what’s really important

Adrian Dyer began his career in the Merchant Navy as a navigating officer. He came ashore in 2000 and has worked within the shipping industry in the City of London ever since. He is married with two children. Adrian blogs as City Dad, aiming to encourage dads to become familiar with their rights as regards paternity and parental leave, as well as flexible working.

Family man

I think I’ve always been a family man. In fact most of my family, my own dad in particular, is very family-oriented, as opposed to surrounding themselves with friends, for example. I have always loved being around my family and around the home. At one point in my career I even requested working from home as a permanent change to my contract (it seemed much preferable to commuting for two and a half hours each day!) but my suggestion was rejected.

Shifting the base of work and family

In 2009, after the birth of my son, I spent two weeks on paternity leave immediately after his birth and then disappeared off to work leaving my wife to carry on with the rest of her maternity leave alone. This didn’t seem fair for several reasons. First, I had it easy, sliding off to the office to sit around and drink cups of tea while dealing with a few emails and calls.

My wife, on the other hand, was rushing around all day with our little one. She did love her time at home but, especially as it was our first child, it wasn’t easy. “You’re not doing anything around the house,” she used to say and she was right, I wasn’t. How could I? I left for work before 7am and was back again shortly before 7pm. But what could I do to shift the balance of work and family?

Back in 2009, the answer was: not a lot. However, when my daughter was born in 2012, we had more options.

“How would you like to split my maternity leave with me this time?” my wife asked.

“What? Can we really do that?” I asked, surprised.

Extended paternity leave: How would I cope?

Luckily my wife works in HR so she was well aware that in 2011 the law changed to allow dads to take up to six months of the wife’s maternity leave as additional paternity leave, as long as she has taken at least the first six months and returned to work. How would that work financially? How would I cope looking after two kids? What would my boss say about that?! So many questions…

A few months out to spend quality time with the kids – taking a step back and thinking about what’s really important

What an amazing opportunity – a few months out to spend quality time with the kids. I’d really be putting my family first. I think sometimes we can get caught up in life and lose our sense of what is really important to us. We focus on salaries, bonuses, status, how many bedrooms we have, what sort of car we drive. Once in a while it’s worth taking a step a back and thinking about what’s really important to us.

So: how about taking additional paternity leave? Financially it would be OK. My wife was earning more than I did so her returning to work once her enhanced maternity pay ended made sense. In addition, I was lucky enough to have some savings which I could use to pay my own way during my four months of totally unpaid leave.

Looking after two kids: It couldn’t be that hard, could it?

Could I look after two kids? Well, it couldn’t be that hard, could it? And what would my boss say? I work in the City of London for a company founded in the 1800s with a very traditional work ethic, so I knew this was going to be tricky. The best approach I could come up with was to take my manager out to lunch, buy him a couple of beers and then hit him with it. I thought he might be more receptive after having sausages and mash and two pints of Old Wallop.

He was shocked at first and actually didn’t know if it was even possible, but once I emphasised the financial reasons behind my plan, it began to make more sense to him. Nevertheless, he asked me to check with HR. That turned out to be just a formality. So that was it. All set for four months “off”.

An amazing, family changing experience

How did it go? It was an amazing, family changing experience. The kids loved it, I loved it and my wife was ready to return to work and leave me in charge at home. It was hard work though and when I tell people I only went back to work for a rest I’m only half joking! It’s all go, but it’s the most rewarding thing I’ve ever done and I’d do it again.

Everyone I spoke to was really supportive and, apart from my own manager’s initially hesitant reaction, I’ve received nothing but encouragement and support from friends, colleagues and people I have met. This also includes other mums I met who seemed to enjoy the novelty of having a dad around!

Spend as much time as possible with the kids as possible – they won’t want Dad around forever!

After my four months of paternity leave, the thought of going back to work and missing out on being with the family was a bit depressing. However, I managed to negotiate a four and a half day working week which has worked out really well. It has meant a pay cut, of course, but I think that kids are only young once so we have to do what we can to spend as much time as possible with them now as they won’t want Dad around forever!

More devoted employee

Work wise I’ve returned to exactly the same role and my job hasn’t been affected negatively in the slightest. I’d even go so far as to say it’s had a positive effect, as I think I’m a more devoted employee now and, due to the fact that my employer has allowed me to work flexibly, I’m more likely to stay where I am.

The next generation of men will be doing this a lot more than we do, so why not beat them to it?!

By: Adrian Dyer

Source: Womanthology

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What you need to know about the Government’s Pregnancy and Return to Work Report

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In our April blog Stand up Australia – Our working mums and dads deserve better we brought you the preliminary findings of the Government’s National Review into discrimination related to pregnancy, parental leave and return to work after parental leave. The landmark Human Rights Commission study found 50% of women experience discrimination during this period. Just as astounding is the fact that this figure has barely changed in 20 years according to the Commission. It’s not just a woman’s issue – over a quarter of men also face discrimination on return from parental leave.

Now, the Commission has released its full report with recommendations for Government and employers on how to help fix this problem, a problem that Sex Discrimination Commissioner Elizabeth Broderick says would boost Australia’s economy. She told ABC News: “What we do know is that men’s workforce participation rate is about 12% above women’s. If we could close that gap by lifting women’s participation just 6%, we would add around $25 billion annually to Australia’s GDP. This has got significant productivity benefits for Australia.”

From our perspective the report is thorough and includes 4 outstanding principles that if implemented successfully will change the shameful affairs of pregnancy and return to work discrimination in Australian workplaces.

Below we highlight:

  • What employers need to know
  • Best strategies to combat discrimination
  • The Commission’s recommendations – 4 key principles
  • A brief overview by the Human Rights commission including first hand accounts of pregnancy and return to work discrimination

What employers need to know 

Best strategies to combat discrimination

The strategy with the highest impact in reducing discrimination in this area is to address the gap that currently exists between the law and its proper implementation within organisations.

Complementary strategies and actions to address this gap include:

  • Ensuring employers and employees gain an increased understanding of the legislative framework
  • Improving the clarity and dissemination of information
  • Conducting effective training
  • Changing workplace cultures to remove harmful stereotypes, practices and behaviours
  • Monitoring the implementation of policies.
  • Strong leadership within organisations will support reforms that shape more supportive and successful workplaces

The Commission’s recommendations – 4 key principles 

Principle 1: Understanding rights and obligations is the starting point. Employers and employees need clear, comprehensive and consistent information that will assist them to increase and enhance their understanding of their obligations and their rights and how they should be applied in the workplace.

Other measures can include:

  • Developing and implementing policies and programs to support pregnant employees and working parents
  • Ensuring good communication and information sharing between management and employees throughout the continuum of pregnancy, parental leave and on return from parental leave
  • Promoting flexible work opportunities, and
  • Identifying and measuring key metrics, such as return to work rates and promotion rates for flexible workers.

Principle 2: Dismantling harmful stereotypes, practices and behaviours about pregnant women and working parents is critical to eliminating discrimination related to pregnancy, parental leave and return to work.

Identifying and ‘calling-out’ the harmful stereotypes in operation within a workplace is the first step to dismantling them. The second critical step is to expose and remove the stereotypes and unconscious bias underlying an organisation’s policies and practices for leave, flexible work, and promotion and performance indicators. 

Principle 3: Strong standards and improved implementation drives change and helps to create productive workplaces. 

There is therefore a need to focus on strategies that bridge the gap between law and practice.

Points relevant to employers include:

  • Amending the Sex Discrimination Act 1984 to include a positive duty on employers to reasonably accommodate the needs of workers who are pregnant and/or have family responsibilities.
  • Strengthening the ‘right to request’ provisions introducing a positive duty on employers to reasonably accommodate a request for flexible working arrangements.

The Federal Government has already committed to providing $150,000 to support resources about the rights and obligations of both employers and workers. 

Principle 4: Ongoing monitoring, evaluation and research will help to shape effective action.

As a priority, further research is needed to identify the most effective mechanism for reducing the level of vulnerability to redundancy and job loss of pregnant women, employees on parental leave and working parents. It has been recommended that the Government allocate funding to conduct a regular national prevalence survey.

A brief overview including first hand accounts of pregnancy and return to work discrimination 

Report: pregnancy and return to work discrimination costs everyone 

The Australian Human Rights Commission’s landmark report for its Supporting Working Parents: Pregnancy and Return to Work National Review, released today, has found that little has changed in the 15 years since its first Inquiry into this subject. Australian workplaces still overwhelmingly view working while pregnant as a privilege, not a right.

“Our Review included an Australia-wide national consultation process and a national prevalence survey, which Australia is one of the few countries to have undertaken,” Sex Discrimination Commissioner, Elizabeth Broderick said. “It provides indisputable evidence that pregnancy/return to work discrimination continues to be widespread and has a cost – not just to women, working parents and their families – but also to workplaces and the national economy.”

The Review found that one in two (49%) mothers and over a quarter (27%) of the fathers and partners surveyed reported experiencing discrimination in the workplace during pregnancy, parental leave or on return to work. Women and men spoke of the devastating impacts such discrimination can have on a person’s health, on their economic security and on their family.  In the words of one woman:

I would describe my experiences during pregnancy, whilst on parental leave and on returning to work as harrowing, disappointing and probably the worst experience of my life. I spent much of my pregnancy feeling anxious (and sometimes in tears), despite being thrilled about the pregnancy and being physically well. I felt powerless, vulnerable and fearful about my job security and couldn’t understand why I was being treated so badly, especially given my unquestionable commitment to the organisation over the previous seven years.

“The existence of these forms of workplace discrimination is also limiting women’s participation in paid work as well as the productivity of businesses and other organisations,” said Ms Broderick. “Addressing it is not only a human rights imperative, but also an organisational priority. It is critical to the growth of both a strong economy and a cohesive society.”

Commissioner Broderick emphasised that some employers found managing these issues difficult, particularly the uncertainty surrounding pregnancy and return to work. In the words of an employer:

The first thing is that you try to be very excited on behalf of the person who’s telling you. Secretly what you’re [thinking] is how the hell am I going to replace this person for the next year? With the best intentions in the world not to discriminate in any way, how can you avoid being concerned: how am I going to run this company and meet my objectives in the next year or two?

Despite this, the Review found many were putting dynamic and leading strategies in place to overcome these barriers and support their employees.  The Report highlights these leading practices.

The recommendations in the Report are directed towards government, workplaces and the wider Australian community, all of whom have an interest in increasing women’s participation in the workforce and creating supportive workplaces.

“While there are a few areas where the laws can be strengthened, our recommendations are directed towards a much better implementation of legal obligations through greater provision of information about employee rights and employer obligations,” Ms Broderick said. “This is an approach intended to help plug the gap that allows this discrimination to take place – the gap between the legal framework and the implementation of the law.”

The recommendations also emphasise the need for strategies and approaches designed to help dismantle stereotypes and drive cultural change within workplaces, as well as the importance of further monitoring, evaluation and research to shape effective action.

“Research and modelling shows that if businesses and other employers are able to retain women and men who are becoming new parents by eradicating pregnancy/ return to work discrimination, there will be a considerable economic dividend to both them and the wider economy,” said Ms Broderick. “It’s a human issue first. Workplace discrimination has a damaging impact on the lives of parents. But by working together, we can achieve positive results for all.”

The Commission welcomes the Federal Government’s response to the findings of the National Review with the Minister Assisting the Prime Minster for Women, Senator the Hon Michaelia Cash, today announcing funding of $150,000 for the Commission to develop resources for employers on how to best manage and support working parents through pregnancy, parental leave, and on return to work.

For the full report (including the more digestible Community Guide) visit the Human Rights Commission website.

First published: 25 July 2014

Source: Human Rights Commission.

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A Chat with Karen Morris, Creative Director, Underground Communications

Karen Morris

“Don’t beat yourself up…learn from the experience and work out a way to deal with it next time, even if it’s to be more realistic…”

Karen Morris is the force behind Underground Communications. She is a talented writer and communicator providing multi-channel communication services to clients through her business Underground Communications. Oh and she is also a Mum of three.

I always enjoy reading about amazing women who manage to juggle the demands of family and work life. Every single time without fail I learn something new that I too can apply to my complicated family and work life. I hope you too pick up a tip or two from Karen or at the very least understand there are other women out there who juggle the demands of family and work because they love what they do.
Q: Can you tell me about your business?
Karen: I run a boutique communications agency on Sydney’s Northern Beaches. We specialise in developing and implementing holistic communication strategies for conscious businesses who are driven by passion and commitment.
Q: Can you tell me about your family?
Karen: I have three gorgeous, energetic and not-so-small-anymore boys! The eldest is now 14, taller than me and with an attitude to match. Two of the boys are in High School which doesn’t necessarily mean you’re off the hook, you just don’t have to visit too often any more. The youngest still has two more years of primary school, at which point my baby will officially no longer be a baby (except to me!).
Q: What are your strategies for juggling your family and business commitments?

Karen: I’ve found that my strategies have varied considerably over time and the age of the boys. When I first started out my baby was, quite literally, a baby and I used to work much less than I do now. I had two full days without the older boys and juggled delivery deadlines around sleeps, often working at night and on weekends to catch up.

Since the youngest started school I have worked virtually full-time, with the exception of two days a week where a finish at 3pm and then spend the next 2 – 3 hours driving around to various after school activities and balancing the laptop on my knee in the front seat of the car.
School holidays present a different challenge altogether, especially the long school holidays. My most recent strategy with that, since the youngest now refuses to attend vacation care without his brothers, is to hit the keyboard at 6am, work through until 11am and then devote the rest of the day to the boys, periodically checking in on emails just in case there’s anything important that can’t wait until the following morning. This seems to work reasonably well, much better than the ad hoc approach I had last summer holidays!
Q: What are the advantages to having your own business?
Karen: The flexibility to be able to be there for my kids so that I can cheer on the sideline, applaud their musical prowess and boogie on down with them at dance concerts (the boy’s dance group is always the best spectacle of the day!). And, it allows me great satisfaction in creating something that I can be proud of at the same time as showing my boys that dedication and hard work can count for something and that if you strive for something important you will achieve.
Q: What do you find challenging about running your own business?
Karen: Sticking to the program!  I have to force myself to stick to an agenda and I have lists coming out of my lists to make sure I deliver on time. When you work for someone else there is usually a set procedure that you have to follow. I’ve had to develop my own but I’m pretty happy with how we’ve done so far. I’m lucky that I’ve had great staff to help me get to where we are now. I find that I’m much better at being disciplined now that I have an office outside of home. Although the flexibility and convenience of just walking downstairs was wonderful in the early stages of working for myself, eventually I found the isolation crippling.
Q: Do you have any tips for other Mums thinking of starting a business or going back to work?
Karen: Try and set specific work times rather than just ‘working around the kids’. Although it seems like a great idea, even if you’ve set them up with something to keep them occupied, you will always find that there is an interruption of some kind no matter what age they are.
Don’t beat yourself up if you miss a deadline – learn from the experience and work out a way to deal with it next time, even if it’s to be more realistic about what time you have available.
Don’t jump on the bandwagon of guilt. Even if you work for yourself, you can’t be everything to everyone. If you are happy doing what you do and you give your kids quality time in addition to your work then everyone takes away a wonderful memory of the growing up experience. Comparing yourself to anyone else does not serve you or your kids. Just be happy with your choices and, if you’re not, change them (I have emphasised that word on purpose!).

Parents@Work 19 Dec 2013
By: Celeste Kirby-Brown,
Director of Sales, Marketing and Relationships, Ezypay, mums@work Contributor

www.undergroundcomms.com.au

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