There was a scene in the recent ABC production Paper Giants where Cleo Magazine Editor Ita Buttrose steeled herself to announce to her powerful media magnate boss, the late Kerry Packer, that she was pregnant. In the drama that unfolded, he says all the right things to her face and all the wrong things behind her back.
This mini-series was based on events that happened in Australia in the 1970s. Yet three decades on and ask any working mum-to-be about breaking pregnancy news to her boss and I’ll bet she’ll recount her own anxious experience. It’s a vulnerable time for women and their partners. I’ve been there. Twice.
Parental leave retention rates (by gender) has recently been added to the latest version of the Global Reporting Initiative’s Sustainability Reporting Guidelines (the G3.1) under Labour Practices (LA15, Core).
It’s an important and timely addition for Australian organisations given our first fully Government funded paid parental leave scheme started in January this year, about the same time ASX gender and diversity reporting changes became effective for listed companies.
Large Australian companies such as the ANZ report parental leave data (32% of Australian staff who took parental leave in 2009/10 returned, as compared to 30% in New Zealand and 100% in India).
There are many factors that will influence a new mother or father’s decision to return to work and when, such as their employment status (part-time/ full time/ casual) and what this means for eligibility to the organisation’s parental leave policy (which may or may not exceed government requirements), availability and access to quality childcare, the number of children they have and personal and financial circumstances.
I would also suggest that how a boss responds to his/her employee’s pregnancy news – setting in motion the organisation’s maternity and paternity leave policies (assuming they have some) will speak volumes for the corporate culture and play a big role in their organisation’s parental leave retention rate.
A 2009 report from the Productivity Commission on Paid Parental Leave found that of mothers in paid work prior to childbirth, 11 per cent return to paid work within three months of childbirth, 26 per cent within six months, 57 per cent within 12 months, and 74 per cent within 18 months.
Yet recent research suggests that for some Australian women, it’s not a case of will I stay or will I go now, it’s will I go somewhere else? Increasingly it’s to work for themselves (I’m a case in point).
According to research from Bankwest, the number of women setting up their own small business in Australia is growing at twice the rate of men. One of the reasons cited for the trend was women’s preference to work part-time whilst raising small children.
It’s clearly in the interests of organisations to keep their talented women and the link between flexible working arrangements, corporate culture and corporate policy is critical.
A letter to the editor from The Sydney Morning Herald (March 12-13, 2011), written by Dr Anne Reeckmann, captured this point so succinctly:
“Having children is not inconsistent with a career at the top of the corporate ladder, as most men will attest, but it is still the filter that removes a lot of women. Unless corporations have flexible working arrangements and actively support the needs of their women who choose to have children on the way up the corporate ladder, they will find their promising women leaving or opting out of the leadership track.”
The opportunity for competitive advantage in maintaining a strong parental leave retention rate is pretty obvious. Yet in Australia, ask any working mother or father about the effort their organisation makes to ensure employees return after parental leave, and you’ll find there are still some dramas unfolding. We still have a long way to go in changing attitudes and corporate culture to support parental leave policies before performance on this indicator improves.
I’d like to learn more about your experiences – whether it’s in Australia or elsewhere – about parental leave policies and what you think contributes to the decision to return (and when) or not.