Will Kiln is currently on parental leave with his eight-month old daughter, but says that he found asking to take the time out difficult.
He became his “own worst enemy” when grappling with how to step away from his corporate role, given he’d personally never seen another man take a significant amount of time out to have a kid.
Kiln got the leave that he requested and is now enjoying his time at home. He sees the three months he’ll be out from his career as a small blip on the path of the possible 30 plus working years he has ahead.
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But Kiln is in a very different situation to most new dads in Australia.
His employer ING has launched a new parental leave policy that removes ‘primary’ and ‘secondary’ carer labels, which enables both new mums and dads to access 14 weeks paid leave.
The case for parental leave equality
ING is one of a small but growing club of large employers offering parental leave equality, including Medibank Private and Baker McKenzie.
It’s great news for the dads – as well as their partners – who work in such businesses, but the vast majority of new dads do not work in organisations where paid leave is offered, and need to rely on the government paid parental leave scheme if they hope to take some paid time out.
Australia has one of the least generous and most unequal paid parental leave schemes of OECD nations, offering 18 weeks to primary carers at the minimum wage and two weeks ‘Dad and Partner Pay’ to secondary carers.
Ninety five percent of the primary leave is taken up by mums, with less than one in three dads even accessing the two weeks on offer.
It could be due to the stigma still attached to men taking leave, or it could be that receiving the minimum wage for two weeks is less than the financial support their families need.
Even for those that do take the ‘partner pay’, is two weeks really enough time to bond with a new baby? Hardly, and the ‘secondary’ label that then gets applied to dads (and it is mostly dads) simply reinforces the idea that dads are the backup carer.
Meanwhile, if there’s stigma attached to men taking two weeks leave, how can they ever hope to take something longer or to request flexible work later on for family reasons?
I know of one father who was greeted with the comment, “that’s ridiculous, surely your wife can manage” when he asked to take two months of unpaid leave.
It’s no wonder there’s been “almost no change” in men taking up flexible work since 2008, according to recent data from the Australian Institute of Family Studies, and women continue to take on the bulk of the domestic and caring duties at home.
All this is despite the numerous reported benefits of dads taking parental leave that go beyond the knock-on effects of enabling more mothers to participate in the workforce.
A recent US paper reported that parental leave improves father-child bonding along with overall outcomes for children. Australian research finds that parents who are actively involved in the day-to-day care of their babies are more satisfied, express better general wellbeing and experience less psychological stress.
Dads in another world
Aussie dads are frankly missing out.
If they lived in Sweden, they’d have access to months of paid leave, with the country offering 480 days to new parents, reserving 90 days of that package for each one on a ‘use it or lose it’ basis. It’s common to see groups of Dads in Sweden with prams and strollers meeting in cafes and parks during the workday, leading some to coin the term the “latte dads”.
The system’s been so successful in producing a cultural shift that a massive 88 per cent of dads in Sweden are using their allocated leave. Other Scandinavian countries also boast generous parental leave entitlements, contributing to them being some of the most gender equal countries in the world.
In the United Kingdom, Theresa May used her final days as Prime Minister to push for reforms making it easier for dads to take more leave, saying it “sends the wrong message” when women are given significantly longer stints of time than men.
In Australia, paid parental leave barely rated a mention during the 2019 Federal Election campaign. It’s simply not on the agenda.
There are pockets where this conversation is occurring and it’s receiving a positive response. Some large employers have banded together to form the Advancing Parental Leave Equality Network to advocate for stronger policies to support new parents, regardless of gender, promoting research and examples of why change is necessary.
But the conversation needs to move beyond pockets of corporate Australia to one that aims to include all working dads, regardless of where or how they work.