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Calls to Stop Mum’s Missing Out at Work This Mother’s Day

12 May 2017 at 5:09 pm
Wendy Williams
Organisations are being called on to address the “motherhood penalty” in the workplace.

Wendy Williams | 12 May 2017 at 5:09 pm


Calls to Stop Mum’s Missing Out at Work This Mother’s Day
12 May 2017 at 5:09 pm

Organisations are being called on to address the “motherhood penalty” in the workplace.

Coinciding with Mother’s Day, Diversity Council Australia is drawing attention to the gender pay gap and the challenges mother’s face in returning to work.

DCA CEO, Lisa Annese, told Pro Bono News the “motherhood penalty” was a uniquely female experience and one Australia needed to be aware of.

“It is a very broad definition but essentially it means that women who become mothers, or really take on caring responsibilities, have a penalty in the workplace in terms of their pay, their ability to progress, sometimes their conditions of employment, and essentially it is as though your career gets derailed once you become a parent,” Annese said.

“Actually it is quite interesting because you don’t even need to be a parent sometimes for discrimination to happen.

“You just have to look like you are at the age where you might be able to have a baby for some people to start making assumptions about your capacity to have a career.”

The national gender pay gap stands at 16 per cent and has remained between 15 per cent and 19 per cent for the past two decades.

This translates to women working full time earning $261.30 per week less than men working full time.

“This amounts to nearly $14,000 over a year, or $543,504 over a 40 year working life,” Annese said.

“Women are taking time out of the workforce to be mums, and when they return, they are often working in jobs that are lower-paid than the work they did prior to having children, but also frequently not reflecting their abilities, education levels or work experience.”

Annese said there were many reasons that the gap was not decreasing.

“It is not getting better because women’s industry are still undervalued because there is so much gender segregation. It is not getting better because people make assumptions about women and so therefore women experience harassment and discrimination. It is not getting better because there is a gender bind in terms of women actively seeking promotion and being considered overtly ambitious and they don’t get rewarded for that behaviour in the way that men do and then they are punished if they don’t have that behaviour as well. So it is a whole bunch of issues why it is not changing,” she said.

“There are some things we could change overnight if we wanted to, we could stop out right discrimination.

“And then we could work on other things like gender segregation in industries and starting to value female dominated industries a bit better.”

According to the Workplace Gender Equality Agency, a mother’s earnings decrease further for each additional child they have.

“Add part-time work into that mix, and mums are missing out,”  Annese said.

“It’s no wonder that average superannuation balances for women at retirement are 52.8 per cent less than those for men.

“People often make an assumption that children are going to be in this infant stage forever when that’s not the case at all.

“Given our working careers are so long now, taking a long term view is much more rational but it is about two things.

“It is about people making assumptions about women, but also women sometimes self select because they look at their career path and think: ‘Well I can’t possibly balance work and family so I’m self-selecting in a narrower, maybe less valued, less well paid career, because at least I’ll have the opportunity then to be able to  balance my work and family commitments”.

DCA offered some tips on how organisations can address the motherhood penalty:

  • Offer paid parental leave and make it accessible to non-birth parents, or provide other financial incentives for a non-birth partner to take leave to stay at home and care for their child, allowing the mother to return to work, should they wish to.
  • Provide women with additional contributions to superannuation and pay superannuation on the unpaid portion of parental leave.
  • Support pregnant women and mothers to return to work and to continue to be valued members of the workforce with the same opportunities as their colleagues.
  • Ensure flexible work is available to all employees at all levels of the organisation and design jobs, workflows and careers that can encompass flexible working.
  • Make sure organisational culture supports both women and men to work flexibly, and train managers on how to manage employees working flexibly.
  • Review wage setting and pay scales to ensure part-time workers are compensated at the same levels as their full-time counterparts.
  • Put in place performance evaluation and development criteria that are gender-neutral and do not disadvantage employees working flexibly and provide salary transparency where possible

Annese said if “we really value mothers” more needed to be done to address the problem.

“So this Mother’s Day, (as well as breakfast in bed) we are calling on men to take up their share of caring responsibilities at home. It’s good for mums, but sharing the care at home is also great for dads and for families,” she said.

“One of the things about gender equality in the workplace is in order to achieve more gender equality in the workplace, you have to have more gender equality at home  –  not just the care of children, the actual care of the home and the domestic duties so laundry, cleaning, cooking, all of that kind of stuff. So that is part of it.

“But it is also true that when men start to engage more in their home lives and want to work flexibly they are also seriously punished in the workplace. So we actually need to change our attitudes about it as well.

“And we are asking business to be more flexible and look at ways they can address the ‘motherhood penalty’ – by offering parental leave to dads, making sure flexible work is available to anyone for any reason and providing superannuation top-ups to employees (male and female) on parental leave.”

Wendy Williams  |  Editor  |  @WendyAnWilliams

Wendy Williams is a journalist specialising in the not-for-profit sector and broader social economy. She has been the editor of Pro Bono News since 2018.

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