Time to end the lag in men accessing family-friendly workplace policies 

Time to end the lag in men accessing family-friendly workplace policies 

Raff Ciccone

Incredibly, Labor Senator Raff Ciccone became the first father to bring his baby into the Senate last week, two years after the Set the Standard report, which included recommendations to enhance the wellbeing, balance and flexibility of parliamentarians and workers. 

While Ciccone thanked his parliamentary colleagues for creating a “family-friendly environment” in the Senate and encouraged other fathers to bring their kids to work, the fact Ciccone’s proud, baby-holding moment came seven years after Senator Larissa Waters became the first federal politician to bring her baby into the senate was a subtle reminder of the lag that remains in men accessing family-friendly workplace policies. 

This issue could be addressed thanks to changes in how workplaces are required to report to the Workplace Gender Equality Agency. 

Most of us are well aware that the gender pay gaps of employers will be made public on the 27th of February when WGEA publishes such data from firms with 100 or more employees. But this is just one of several changes impacting workplaces that will ultimately affect employees with family responsibilities, thanks to the passage of the Workplace Gender Equality Amendment (Closing the Gender Pay Gap) Bill 2023, aimed at enabling more accountability and transparency on workplace gender equality. 

From April 1, employers who report to WGEA (those with 100 or more team members) will be required to answer new mandatory questions and provide CEO pay details and remuneration numbers for those in Head of Business and Casual Manager roles. These employers will also be required to report on sexual harassment, harassment on the grounds of sex or discrimination. 

Employers with more than 500 or more team members must go a step further. In addition to providing the above details, these employers must include details of their policy or strategy for each of the six gender equality indicators. 

The six Gender Equality Indicators include: 

  1. Gender composition of the workforce 
  2. Gender composition of governing bodies
  3. Equal remuneration between women and men 
  4. Availability and utility of employment terms, flexible working arrangements, & support for family & caring responsibilities
  5. Consultation with employees on gender equality in the workplace 
  6. Sexual harassment, including harassment on the ground of sex or discrimination. 

WGEA has long aimed to address all six of these indicators in their reporting requirements, but these new changes will mark the first time that employers are required to have policies or strategies in place that address all of them in some way. 

All six play an important part in enabling gender equality, but the fourth GEI is particularly interesting for bringing down barriers those with family and caring responsibilities continue to come up against. 

The key word in this indicator is “utility”. Making flexible working arrangements and various support for family and caring responsibilities available is always a good step, but the more difficult and important step is ensuring such support mechanisms are actually used. This means directly reporting the number of employees using such policies and breaking it down according to areas like job level, gender and other relevant metrics. 

The results of WGEA’s 2022-23 Census, launched in November 2023, highlight the opportunity for stronger progress on areas like workplace flexibility and providing greater support to families. 

One area is on paid parental leave, where employers are increasingly evolving their policies to offer better primary and secondary carer leave, as well as much stronger initiatives around removing labels altogether to offer the same amount of leave to all new parents. But the uptick in men taking leave is not moving fast enough.  There was little change in the proportion of men taking paid parental leave in WGEA’s 2022-23 Census results, rising just 0.6 per cent to 14 per cent of those taking employer-funded paid primary carer’s leave. 

And while there has been significant progress around workplace flexibility in recent years, the WGEA results show that part time work is still being penalised when it comes to promotions and opportunities. Just seven per cent of management roles are part time, indicating a “part time promotions gap” which is a problem, particularly for women, given thirty per cent of women work part time. 

While employers have been making progress against most of the six gender equality indicators since 2013-14, when WGEA reporting requirements began, the progress is too slow. The game-changer now is for employers to report on their policies and how such policies and initiatives are actually being utilised, effectively measuring their impact on closing the gap.

At Family Friendly Workplaces, we’ve seen the power of recording and tracking the effectiveness of family-inclusive policies and practices to support employees in combining work and family commitments. Collecting such evidence sees family-friendly workplace policies and practices evolving to meet an organisation’s ESG and gender equality targets. Family-friendly policies, including flexible work, modern paid parental leave, inclusive leadership, family care and wellbeing initiatives, ultimately support gender equality efforts while making the workplace better for everything. 

Senator Raff Ciccone is one of countless dads keen on taking up workplace policies to make their work more family-friendly. In Ciccone’s case, Senate rules changed in 2016 to end a ban on children entering the house during divisions. The focus then was on allowing female MPs to breastfeed in the chamber, but really it’s an opportunity for all new parents to care for their children during the long proceedings when needed, and to also nomalise the mix of family and work for everyone. 

One thing is for certain, workplaces will need to stay ahead of the curve by by embracing family-friendly policies to improve gender equality outcomes to close the gap. 

You can read Family Friendly Workplaces’ free guide on transforming family-friendly policies and practices into gender equality solutions here


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