It’s time for Australia’s tech companies to stop “lagging behind” and start bringing their parental leave in line with other industries, according to Envato’s chief people officer Michelle Ridsdale.
And with more women entering the tech workforce than ever, businesses who don’t keep their policies in line with the times could even see their star workers jump ship to other companies or industries.
Envato, one of Australia’s largest and most profitable tech success stories, has recently revamped its parental leave policies in an effort to pave the way for other startup companies to do the same. The company believes it’s pioneering some of the most generous and inclusive parental leave policies available and is urging others to follow its lead.
“We’ve increased both our primary and partner care leave, and we’re continuing to pay full super for the primary carer even for the complete time they’re away,” Ridsdale tells StartupSmart.
“We’ve also put in place a coaching program for carers returning to the workplace, as we were seeing a lot of women not knowing how to navigate juggling childcare aspects along with returning to part-time work.”
The coaching program is a unique part of Envato’s offering, and Ridsdale says it was spurred on due to a few of the company’s workers leaving shortly after returning from parental leave.
After digging into the reasons for the employees leaving, the company found they were often leaving busy roles to have children and were finding it hard to return to work where their responsibilities were often lessened or passed onto someone else.
“We knew we needed to help employees on how to deal with managing their career while managing a return to work, so we put our coaching program in place to provide them with the right support,” she says.
“Speaking from personal experience, having someone who can work with you on coming up with strategies to both develop your career and integrate back into work is really helpful.”
The company just had its first person pass through the coaching program, and Ridsdale says the feedback so far has been “glowing”.
More work to do
While Ridsdale and Envato are calling for more action from the tech sector on progressive parental leave policy, the people chief also concedes specialised policies are often too expensive or complicated for smaller startup players.
“Offering paid parental leave in any business is challenging, but it’s even more financially challenging for smaller businesses,” she says.
That being said, Ridsdale believes the broader tech sector lags behind other industries, which she says is due to the overall issues with gender diversity in the space. However, she says further inclusive policies would go a long way towards encouraging more women into the sector.
“If we’re to address gender diversity in tech, we need these kinds of policies,” she says.
The federal government recently revealed changes to its paid parental leave scheme, which introduces ways for parents to change how they access pay from the scheme, allowing them to break it up into smaller ‘chunks’. These changes are aimed at self-employed parents, who the government says often can’t afford to take a full 18 weeks off.
Ridsdale says the government’s offer is still “not where I would expect” when it comes to paid leave, and believes there’s more to do by both businesses and government when it comes to supporting same-sex couples, saying there are “various barriers” to carers taking time off in the first 12 months.
“There’s a long way to go from a government perspective compared to other countries, such as ways to support parents returning to their careers,” she says.
Ridsdale is also calling for more female tech leaders to share their experiences with parental leave, saying more should be done to share knowledge and experience.