Education is at the source of growth (not just for the individual but also for economies) and, in Australia, the majority of our university graduates are women. We’re number one on the planet in terms of educating women in tertiary institutions – yet the participation rate of those women in leadership roles is dire. So we’re spending the money on education but we’re not getting the return out of our highly educated people.
I’ve written before about the economic argument for positive action and legislation in regards to women on boards and equal pay And while I firmly believe that this sort of legislation will create an important, defining shift in regards to business leadership, there are wider community implications too.
Take paid parental leave. I’m glad that at least now there is18 weeks parental leave. But I think there is a bigger issue. Parenting is an eighteen-year job, and that’s being conservative! What are we doing to support parents…. For the next two decades. Paid parental leave isn’t the answer to encouraging women to return to work. It’s what we do to make childcare accessible and available to people all the time, without prejudice, whether it’s a mother or father, foster parent, guardian or whatever. (And I won’t go into the whole question of how we judge ourselves as being ‘good mothers’ – which also impacts our childcare possibilities)
Not only is the cost of childcare in Australia rising, the availability of positions is also at a premium. Whilst the government reimburses a percentage of fees based on a family’s income, it becomes an economic – and also an emotional argument – on the side of the carer who, whilst wanting or needing to financially contribute, perhaps does not wish to be a stay-at-home dad or mum all day every day either. I have an associate with young children who works part-time at RedBalloon who freely admits that (see her blog post) – whilst loving her two under sixes – she is a far better wife and mother because she is able to work, contribute and exercise her creative brain with her peers each day. I too worked too hard on my career to pack it all in when I had kids…(they would not have benefited from having me with them full time – I think I am a better mother because I have other interests) I tried to compromise by working from home.
RedBalloon thrives because of its great team. Part-time roles, the flexibility to work from home or take time-in-lieu are not ground-breakingly innovative on our part. Yet the spirit in which all these are offered may well be. (Now I am on the hunt for child care places close to the office.)
Everyone’s contribution here is valued equally as highly, no matter the hours they work, or whether they are working virtually.
So we need leadership from the top, from government and with more women on boards. How do we create truly family-friendly workplaces? The UK’s Childcare voucher scheme struck me as a simple, straightforward way to pay for quality childcare, with its tax benefits to both employees and employers. Yet many women miss out of the non-critical, yet still beneficial, aspects of work – the seminars, the conferences, the networking events, the breakfasts – because who is going to do the childcare and get the kids to school?
It’s important to recognise that it’s not simply a women’s issue, it’s a community issue and one that need structural economic reform, especially if you are spending valuable taxpayers dollars educating a populace who are then not able to easily contribute back to society, no matter how much they wish to.