Want gender equality? Look after your working parents

The gender pay gap still exists – and it’s holding women back from economic parity.  

Circle In co-founder Jodi Geddes talks about the role organisations can play in supporting working parents and playing their part in challenging gender inequality. 

It may be 50 years since laws were passed to ensure that Australian women had the right to be paid the same as men for doing the same work — but that doesn’t mean we’ve reached an equal footing. 

An August 2019 report on the gender pay gap released by the Workplace Gender Equality Agency, KPMG Australia and Diversity Council Australia shows we still have a long way to go before the average woman earns the same as the average man. 

In Australia, there’s currently a 14% difference between the average weekly wages of men and women^.  

Let’s get equal

To bring this to life, Wednesday 28 August has been designated [Un] Equal Pay Day, flagging the additional 59 days women need to work in a financial year before they earn the same amount as men. 

This isn’t just a problem in Australia. Globally, the gender pay gap between men and women is 32% and is predicted to take an astonishing 202 years to close^^

The impact of having a family is one of the biggest factors in why women are significantly less well off financially than men across their working lives. 

The report shows that the gendered impact of family commitments — such as taking time out of work to care for children, or returning to part-time employment — accounts for 39% of the gender pay gap. 

Traditionally, the work involved in raising children is shouldered by mothers, while husbands focus on bringing an income into the family. When women do return to the workplace, they’re more likely to work part time. Not only that, but they experience changes in terms of identity, confidence, perception (both self perception and how they are perceived by others) that affect their career prospects. 

Make space for fathers

Here at Circle In, our mission is to make a better world for working parents. That means supporting both men and women to thrive in their careers and family lives.  

It’s not hard to see how the solutions to fixing the gender pay gap are inherently tied up in how working parents of both genders are supported. 

The role that men play as fathers — and importantly the role they want to play more — has to be treated more seriously. To bring women confidently back into the workforce, we also need to enable men to confidently step away from it too.  

In research we conducted last year for Circle In^^^, 77% of respondents told us they believe that a parental leave policy is the most effective way to achieve Australia’s female participation workforce target.

We also found that 40% of men believed that their organisation’s parental leave policy wasn’t equal for men.

Here are just some of the ways to challenge the status quo to encourage better pay parity for men and women:   

Help women to return to the workforce sooner…
A massive 25% of the gender pay gap is explained by career interruptions^. This figure has actually increased since 2014. It’s mostly women that take time out of the workforce to look after family members. How can your organisation encourage them to return to work earlier? We’re seeing lots of companies beginning to provide equal parental leave, meaning that partners are financially enabled to share care of their young children. 

…and help women to return more confidently.
Taking a significant amount of time off work for family reasons – which is more common in Australia, New Zealand and the UK than in the US – can seriously impact an individual’s confidence and approach to their career. This is a big focus for our Circle In offering: supporting both staff and their managers to navigate this complex journey together.   

Reduce bias towards full-time workers
From people with families to those with ‘portfolio careers’ or side hustles, the future of work is flexible. Don’t just assume that your full timers are more suited to a particular job. Think creatively about how you can accommodate part time at every level, in every role. Give your part timers as much training and opportunities to progress as possible.  

Show more support for fathers to take parental leave
This is a really crucial one. In our research, only 47% of men believed that their workplace was supportive in encouraging fathers to take parental leave. Both statistically and anecdotally we see this problem often: that cultural and gender bias tends to make men unable or uncomfortable to as easily step away from work into an equal parenting role. 

A good policy is nothing without the cultural change and action to go with it. Our users tell us that they consider visible support from senior leaders to be the most important aspect of a parental leave program^^^

Some final questions to ask yourself: 

  • Does your organisation have forward thinking policies in place?
  • Does your culture genuinely support the spirit of those policies?
  • How are you role modelling equality yourself?
  • How do the leaders in your organisation make it easy to manage work and family commitments? 

Written by Jodi Geddes. 

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^ KPMG, Workplace Gender Equality Agency & Diversity Council Australia, She’s Price(d)less: The economics of the gender pay gap, August 2019  
^^  World Economic Forum, The Global Gender Gap Report.
^^^ Circle In research, March 2018

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