Amanda Gome

On international women’s day, Australia is a laughing stock. But don’t blame employers, we do enough! Paid maternity leave is overdue.

Don’t blame us!

It is International Women’s Day and Australia is a laughing stock. At a time of massive skills shortage, far too few Australian women work – and there are so few in senior positions in both large and small companies that it is a national disgrace.

But every time I read about the necessity for Australia’s employers to do more, my blood boils. The more enlightened among us already do enough. Usually when a women – or increasingly a man – goes on baby leave, employers lie awake at night wondering how on earth to replace them. They then have to advertise, interview, recruit and train a replacement. Then when the parent returns, they have to be retrained and the replacement employee let go or another position found.

Many employers also pay maternity leave and increasingly paternity leave and other costs associated with parents in the workplace such as computers for home use and mobile bills so employees can be contacted at home.

Well, you don’t hear us complaining (much). Apart from a minority of rogue employers, most bosses are happy to take on the responsibility. After all employers are used to lying awake at night, shuffling resources, creating more jobs and contributing to society.

But it is time the government took up its share of responsibility – properly. Australia and the US are the only countries in the OECD that have not got legislated paid maternity leave and it is no coincidence that less than half of Australian women with two children are in the workforce – a far lower rate than most OECD countries.

It means a major investment and plan that will result – quickly – in more, better and flexible childcare, proper kindergartens (that DON’T finish at midday) and decent after school programs that also engage young teenagers.

But even with an election looming, the massive skills shortage and more bad figures on women in the workforce, neither party is offering anything like a great plan with funding to match.

John Howard, after years of making it so hard that the bulk of women with two kids or more just stopped working, is slowly changing his stripes. (Could be that he has just taken a good look at his son’s girlfriend and worked out that she will NOT be looking after him in his dotage – and there will be no nurses left to do so either?)

Labor’s contribution to the debate so far with the suggestion that women have access to two year’s maternity leave just puts further pressure on employers.

But hey, it is International Women’s Day. So maybe we should all pause for a moment and have a look at our practices and prejudices. Is there something we can do for our female employees? Can we ask them why they are not aiming for more senior positions? And is there anything we can do to encourage them to do so?

Click here to read the findings of a new survey about the falling number of women in senior business roles.


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