Concept of ‘working mothers’ must change: Australian survey
One in four women is at risk of burn out and there is a desperate need for non gendered support – of equal paternal and maternal workplace flexibility – an Australian survey and report into women in the workforce over the last 12 months has found.
From claims of wage theft (more hours, less pay), and utter overwhelm, to increased parenting demands left largely to mothers, the survey of almost 1,300 Australian women covering their work and home experiences in the last year was largely a sombre tale. But there were some silver linings, with 55% reporting they were enjoying more flexible work at last and 30% of women saying they have enjoyed a slower pace over lockdown periods.
Workplace Diversity and Inclusion specialist, Samantha Sutherland, said the research paper ‘Australian Women at Work’, which her practice commissioned, highlighted that despite decades of understanding and discussion on equality in the workplace and at home, COVID-19 revealed that little systemic change has actually occurred in that time.
Of the women surveyed:
- 24% (1 in 4) said they are at complete overwhelm and have no sense of balance whatsoever between work and home
- 30% (almost 1 in 3) are working more than they did pre-pandemic
- 45% feel that they had an increased parenting load due to the impacts of COVID-19 while 69% feel they do more parenting than their partner/co-parent
- 27% felt that Covid-19 had a negative impact on their ability to progress their careers • 60% feel guilty that they’re doing neither work nor home properly
- 81% would like to see a continuation of flexible work options going forward • 50% would like leadership development opportunities
“Evidence is mounting that working women have felt the effects of COVID-19 more than men and mothers are hardest hit. They’ve borne the brunt of increases in the volume of domestic labour, unequal labour in the home and, in particular, periods of home-schooling during various lockdowns and school closures,” said Ms. Sutherland.
According to Ms. Sutherland, the concept of ‘working mothers’ needs to shift to ‘working parents’ in company policies, else women would continue to be the default bearers of greater domestic demands when major upheaval occurred, which her survey showed was simply not sustainable.
“There needs to a non-gendered approach to parental leave policies, flexible working and part time opportunities for all employees. The pressures between domestic and work life are not
mutually exclusive, and employers, whether they realise it or not, have a largely influential role to play in helping address this domestic and workplace imbalance,” she said.
“One case I know was a father working in a ASX50 company who was on a three month trial compressing his days from five to four so he could look after the children on Fridays. Everything worked really well, and at the end of the trial HR said, ‘you can’t continue doing this, because then everyone will want to do it, and flexible working is for mothers.’
“That type of attitude completely entrenches the view that a woman’s place is in the home and a man’s place is at work. It’s a direct barrier to women participating in the workforce.”
When asked to identify what support their employer could provide to help them achieve a greater sense of balance, women surveyed were clear about their needs, with a staggering 81% expressing a clear desire for ongoing flexibility. Leadership development, executive modelling of balancing family and career, and non-gendered support to increase equality both at home and work were also areas identified as priorities.
“The fact that the load has been so uneven for so long, and that it’s still the same story, is getting a bit tired,” said Ms. Sutherland. “Men also need to be given access to flexible work options to participate more in the home, and there needs to be greater recognition that part times workers still have career ambitions and aspirations.
“There is a huge appetite for improvement out there and COVID-19 has simply highlighted once again why we need to bring this to the top of our priorities. The message from women to Australian corporates is clear: the time for widespread systematic change needs to happen, and it needs to happen, now.”
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