Article

How to Support Women at all Stages of their Employee Experience

How to Support Women at all Stages of their Employee Experience

Julia Bickley
Julia BickleyDec 13, 2019

We all know by now the compelling reasons why equal representation of gender in leadership is so important, and how slow that progress to change can be. Women are still woefully underrepresented in leadership, with only 13.7% holding chair positions, and only 17.1% in CEO positions, according to the Australian Bureau of Statistics.

Whilst that might not sound encouraging, WORK180 and its Endorsed Employers are speeding up the process and driving change from within by sharing best practice and next practice strategies and solutions shared by some of Australia’s most progressive organisations at our Executives Driving Gender Equality (EDGE) events.

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The first step towards retaining women in leadership is parental support

After acknowledging the Yuggera land on which we borrowed time at, WORK180 CEO Gemma Lloyd kicked off the last of our 2019 EDGE (Executives Driving Gender Equality) events at the Brisbane office of Cardno, one of WORK180’s newly Endorsed Employers. This event has been held across different states and internationally with a mix of industries coming together to share common themes and challenges various organisations face when implementing successful parenting policies and return to work programs.

Research suggests that employers with progressive policies that support gender equality attract higher calibre talent – and retain them for longer. Companies that offer gender neutral, paid parental leave and reduced waiting periods to access paid leave, are considered more favourably by prospective candidates.

However, simply having a paid parental leave policy in place is not enough. We know that women are not only reviewing how many weeks of parental leave are available, but also other factors such as how long they must wait before accessing parental leave, whether their superannuation will continue to be paid on the paid and/or unpaid portions of parental leave, and what level of support they will receive in the transition back to the workplace through return to work programs.

Raising the bar

Companies across Australian industries, on average, offer 10 weeks parental leave for a primary carer and 1.4 weeks parental leave for a secondary carer. For companies that are endorsed through WORK180, however, that benchmark is much higher. Our Endorsed Employers, on average offer 14 weeks for a primary carer and 3 weeks for a secondary carer. This demonstrates how seriously our Endorsed Employers are about pushing the dial to provide best in class, supportive policies.

And then there are our pacesetters. Penten offer 26 weeks paid parental leave for both primary and secondary carer, whilst Deloitte offer 18 weeks paid parental leave for either parent and have gone further still by removing the terms primary and secondary from their policies. They believe that both parents should have the opportunity to provide support to their children through those early years, for the same amount of time.

WORK180 is also proud to work with some other serious pacesetters, such as REA Group and Rewards Gateway, who both provide 26 weeks primary parental leave. This is significantly above the national average! Notably, Port of Brisbane have also recently improved their parental leave policies through the introduction of paid prenatal care leave for both parents, paid superannuation on unpaid portions of parental leave and a reduction of the waiting period for parents to access leave down to 6 months - now that's next practice!

Review your policies regularly and never in isolation

Our Inclusion Strategists at WORK180 work regularly with progressive Endorsed Employers who are taking a more holistic approach to identifying and implementing changes in their policies and programs that are integrated, not just standalone. For instance, companies are now implementing stillbirth policies into their parental leave policies and ensuring that those policies are supported by mental health and wellbeing programs and/or EAP support.

We also see companies often providing flexible working arrangements to parents in support of the needs and demands that are placed upon employees when they become parents.

Within our Endorsed Employer network, we see an average of 1 policy update every 3 weeks. We have observed companies reviewing and updating their policies and pushing the bar ever higher to ensure policies are competitive. These companies have also gone the extra mile towards creating gender neutral policies, ensuring parental leave covers families who adopt, foster or assume legal guardianship of other people’s children whilst also offering equal parental leave for both types of carers.

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Leading with action

At our most recent EDGE event, we focused on the key themes of parental leave and return to work policies that help to support company targets to increase the number of women in leadership.

The majority of professionals who attended the event categorised themselves as belonging to companies that were in the infancy stage of providing progressive, best practice policies and programs. However, as HR and Diversity & Inclusion leaders in the room began to share the initiatives they currently have in place, it became evident that these companies are in fact making very positive strides towards creating more inclusive workplaces.

There were a number of practical best and next practice initiatives shared amongst the group, such as:

  • Offering employees a gradual return to work such as reduced hours initially or extending full pay for the first month for 75% of contracted hours
  • Introducing gender neutral parental leave policies to encourage men to take primary parental leave and flexibility in support of their partners returning to work sooner
  • Embracing technology apps to boost engagement and keep communication and sense of belonging and community intact whilst employee is on leave (if the employee so chooses to remain actively in touch)
  • Offering a bonus Superannuation payment on return to work
  • Providing subsidised childcare support to ease the financial burden on parents
  • Hosting parents’ morning teas that parents can bring their children along to

Three steps forward, one step backward

There were two key challenges cited by almost every company in the room – the ability to influence their leadership teams to drive change from the top and in turn, line management, and being able to encourage senior males in the business to model culture change by taking parental leave or embracing flexible working arrangements.

All in the room acknowledged that there are no ‘quick fixes’ when it comes to making meaningful change. Introducing best practice policy is the first important step, however, moving the needle and changing culture does take time. Often though, making smaller incremental changes and focusing on areas such as reducing the waiting period to access parental leave or introducing a return to work program is a great place to start.

The key to success is to ensure that great policies or initiatives that are introduced are clearly communicated to all levels of the business, with training and support provided to managers and leaders to ensure a consistent employee experience for all people, at all levels of the organisation. By offering training programs to line managers and team leaders ensures that conversations that take place on an individual level are centred around respect, trust and supportive behaviour.

The other key challenge shared was that supporting women in leadership cannot be easily achieved without first changing the culture for men and creating an environment that encourages men to take primary parental leave and take up flexible working arrangements.

The introduction of a gender-neutral leave policy and actively encouraging male leaders in the business to take parental leave or seek workplace flexibility are an important factor in reducing the stigma and discrimination men can face in the workplace.

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Removing barriers to opportunity at all stages of the employee experience

Having a paid parental leave policy in place is an obvious essential to attracting key female talent, however, not all women plan to be or are caregivers of young children. It is crucial that companies consider how they can provide opportunities and support to women at all stages of their career through to retirement.

Lack of flexible work practices also hinders women who decide not to have children, or whose children are older. Progressive companies are focused on assessing the whole lifecycle of an employee and introducing flexible working arrangements that support women who have a desire to move into leadership roles whilst also juggling carer responsibilities of older children, ageing parents or family members with a disability.

Overcoming barriers for both women and men during those early stages of parenting by introducing gender neutral parental leave policies is the first step. Reviewing other policies and programs in support of new parents such as return to work programs or access to flexible working arrangements that keep employees engaged and help them achieve work life balance is equally as important.

Abolishing gender stereotypes that see women exiting companies at a time when they are on the trajectory to leadership and encouraging more men to take up primary care responsibilities is also key.

Finally, instilling and cultivating a workplace culture at all levels of the company, particularly at the management and leadership level, that ensures a consistent employee experience for all women, at all stage of their career, is paramount. If we can provide women with choices and opportunities to develop through progressive policies, integrated programs and initiatives and flexible workforces – we can go a long way to ensuring women not only secure more leadership roles – but thrive in them.

Supportive policies improve employee mental wellbeing and retention, with an estimated cost of $10.9 billion per year to Australian business. Mental health is a huge cost to business and now is the time to invest in the best so that your business stays ahead of the game. This conversation is the topic of WORK180’s 2020 EDGE Series around mental health in the workplace - stay tuned.

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About the author

Julia Bickley

Julia Bickley

Julia is an Inclusion Strategist at WORK180, who is passionate about helping organizations bring to life their people stories and policies. Outside of WORK180, Julia is a mental health advocate and Mum, on a mission to help people from all walks of life find their purpose and place to thrive.


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