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Walking the talk

25 November 2019 at 8:33 am
Sarah Ireland
As Sarah Ireland, CEO of One Girl, prepares to go on parental leave, she shares how her organisation took progressive workplace flexibility from policy and put it into practice.

Sarah Ireland | 25 November 2019 at 8:33 am


Walking the talk
25 November 2019 at 8:33 am

As Sarah Ireland, CEO of One Girl, prepares to go on parental leave, she shares how her organisation took progressive workplace flexibility from policy and put it into practice.

Starting at One Girl in early 2018, one of the first things I knew I wanted to do was to develop policies that would reflect the type of organisation that I wanted to both work in and to lead. And not to have them just exist on paper, but become part of the culture.

Reflecting on my own experiences working for other organisations I realised that a lot of them either didn’t offer any flexibility, only offered flexibility to certain groups of people (such as parents or more specifically, mothers), or had “flexibility” written into policies but not actually practised. 

I thought about how I could embody the values of One Girl and what I would like in a flexible workplace as the mother of a small child. But also what other One Girl team members might want; knowing that while no one else in the organisation at that time had children, everyone had a life outside of work that demanded different things of them. 

One of the barriers to education that girls and young women face in the countries in which One Girl works is early marriage and teenage pregnancy and our programs work to address that. Here in Australia, we are lucky enough to have a high school completion rate for girls that sits above 95 per cent and low teen pregnancy. However, women in Australia still face barriers to success. It just happens later … after they leave school and enter the workplace.

So I thought it was time to walk the talk with a suite of policies that provide flexibility and support to everyone, no matter what stage of their lives and what type of flexibility might be needed. None of these are particularly groundbreaking policies that haven’t been seen in organisations before, but what we are doing at One Girl is ensuring that the options are there for everyone — whether it be flexible start and finish times, working condensed schedules, or working from home. 

There are challenges that we face in making this work, for example, having the appropriate technology so those working from home can still effectively interact with people in the office and ensuring that if someone is working outside of “regular” work hours, their colleagues don’t feel the need to reply if they aren’t working. But these are just that — challenges. And while it’s not always obvious, the evidence is there to show that providing a flexible workplace increases staff productivity, people’s happiness at work, and helps foster genuine commitment to the organisation. 

We also implemented a “gender-neutral” parental leave policy. I wrote this policy with a male colleague as we both believed that having a gender-neutral paid parental leave policy was important in furthering gender equity both in and outside of the workplace. And that meant removing the common usage of terms such as “co-parents”, different entitlements based on a parent’s gender, or including different leave and pay entitlements for primary vs secondary carers.

Annabel Crabb’s Quarterly Essay, Men at Work, summed it up beautifully:

“An employee who has been given support and flexibility around the birth of a child is likely to return to work happier and more productive, and is more likely to remain loyal to their employer and recommend their workplace to others.” 

She also made the point that parental leave is, in fact, prudent investment and cited studies where a whopping 80 per cent of employers who offered paid parental leave reported a positive impact on employee morale, and 70 per cent reported an increase in employee productivity. 

She states that while it does cost $$, it saves on recruitment and training, wins you the trust and loyalty of that employee and advertises you as an employer of choice. I couldn’t agree more that when weighed up against all that, the expense starts to look more than “manageable”.

Big corporate companies have a responsibility to play a positive role in shaping the culture of our generation, and more and more definitely are. But I believe that small companies – and yes, small not for profits – can also play a big role in changing how work and life are balanced, how we can break the mould of stereotypical gender roles in the home and workplace, and how we can create a world that’s fair and inspiring for the next generation. 

So we must invest our time, effort – and yes – our money. 

It can be tempting to ignore or decide against progressive policies as a small charity pinching every penny, but at One Girl we are agitating for positive change and implementing policies that value people – both in Australia and overseas – above any bottom line.

The gender wage gap is about more than just equal pay, it’s about getting more women back into the workforce by allowing more men back into the home – because you can’t have one without the other.

As an organisation that champions equality, it’s important that we “walk the talk” to give women and girls every opportunity to succeed. We’re always learning and will continually strive to improve… Care to walk with us?

Sarah Ireland  |  @ProBonoNews

Sarah Ireland is the CEO of One Girl, an Australian not-for-profit organisation that harnesses the power of education to drive change for girls and their families in Sierra Leone and Uganda.

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