Article

Common themes to retain women in leadership


WORK180Sep 5, 2019

According to the Australian Bureau of Statistics, women comprise 46.9% of all employed persons in Australia, but hold only 13.7% of chair positions, 25.8% of directorships and only 17.1% of CEOs are women. In fact, there are more men named Andrew in ASX 200 CEO positions than there are women. These are not great stats!

WORK180 is on a mission to finally put an end to workplace discrimination, so that everyone is valued equally and businesses can enjoy the benefits of a truly diverse workforce.

One of the ways WORK180 is speeding up the process is through our Executives Driving Gender Equality (EDGE) events, where we bring together great HR minds from across multiple industries, to develop real solutions and activate strategies for change.

Parental Leave, Return to Work Support and Profitability

Research suggests that paid parental leave contributes to an increase in women’s workforce participation and further benefits organisations by increasing the number of employees returning to work after parental leave, reducing recruitment costs, and increasing retention.(1)

We also know from a global survey of 21,980 firms from 91 countries that there is a correlation between more female leaders and increased financial profitability. (2)

One tool to increase the number of women in leadership positions is providing supportive parental leave policies and return to work support, enabling women to remain in the workforce and maintain full employment.

At the most recent EDGE event we focused on parental leave and return to work policies with the aim of increasing the number of women in leadership roles. There are common themes and learnings at each stage of the journey, that are worked through in more detail below.

Starting Your Journey

At the start of any journey to introduce or strengthen parental leave and return to work policies, communication and consistency from leadership are key to ensure staff know the policies are supported at the highest levels and to demonstrate that commitment.

At this stage, companies also start looking at flexibility more broadly than just ‘part-time’ work and using the correct language around it.

Companies also need to start understanding the needs and desires of their workforce, opening up communication to ensure policies meet those needs.

On Your Way

Most of the professionals at the EDGE event self-selected their company and policies into this mid-range group. They have started their journey to best practice, but are not yet at the most progressive end of the scale,

Companies that are well on their way build flexibility around the individual rather than having a one-size-fits-all approach. They generally have clear work from home arrangements,

They have a number of specific policies and assistance programs, such as;

  • School holiday programs
  • Breastfeeding rooms
  • Bonus Superannuation payment on return to work
  • Salary packaging childcare
  • Company events

The success of these programs is maintained through consistent and open communications, regular check ins with people who may be on parental or other leave and measuring employee uptake of policies to see what’s working and what can be improved.

Progressive Policies

Approximately one third of the organisations in attendance at EDGE placed themselves in the progressive range for parental leave and return to work policies. These companies consult and train management prior to implementing new policies to ensure consistency – we’ve all heard examples where ‘manager discretion’ has made a policy unavailable to teams with an unsupportive manager! They take progressive steps to enhance career progression, such as professional development programs, designing jobs around the person rather than adapting the person to the job, offering pay rises to employees on parental leave and having a gradual ramp up and reintegration returning from leave.

These companies have also gone an additional way towards creating gender neutral policies, with the removal of ‘primary carer’ and ‘secondary carer’ terms, offering equal parental leave for both carers

Other policies support parents financially, removing minimum tenure to access parental leave and paying superannuation on unpaid parental leave. With women retiring with, on average, half the super of men(3) and still taking the bulk of parental leave, protection of superannuation for carers becomes increasingly important.

Additional specific support programs from progressive companies may include:

  • Stillbirth included in parental leave
  • Company paid IVF treatment
  • Onsite childcare
  • PAWternity leave – leave granted to care for ill pets, or to welcome new ones into your home!

Where To From Here

The common thread from this EDGE event seemed to revolve around the complexities of individual situations. Great policies are not always effectively implemented by all management and don’t always address the individual’s needs.

Additionally, influencing the leadership team enough to get them on board with making these changes is a key factor in ensuring success. Particularly in companies in the early stages of implementing parental leave policies, leadership support is critical. Having a great parental leave policy is a fantastic start. However, we need to consider not just the year or two after women return to work, but the next 10 -20 years. Support and policies are required that enable women to continue their career trajectory and change the paradigm of corporate leadership in Australia.

To veiw photos from the latest EDGE event, click here

(1) https://www.wgea.gov.au/sites/default/files/documents/Parental-leave-and-gender-equality.pdf (2) https://www.piie.com/publications/working-papers/gender-diversity-profitable-evidence-global-survey (3) https://www.abc.net.au/news/2019-05-10/average-super/11101828

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About the author

WORK180

WORK180 is an international jobs network that connects smart businesses with talented women. We pre-screen every employer on our jobs board to see where they stand on pay equity, flexible working, paid parental leave, equal opportunities and a range of other criteria. We also take into account diversity initiatives focusing on age, ability, ethnicity and sexual orientation.

The information we uncover is made public on our website, so that everyone knows what to expect from each employer before applying for a job. We continually review and evolve our pre-screening criteria to ensure workplaces are fair and equal for everyone.


WORK180 is a jobs board with a difference! We pre-screen employers on paid-parent leave, pay equity, flexible working arrangements and more. Find your dream job here.


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