Not enough being done for Australian families

December 10, 2013

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According to a Murdoch University researcher, the Australian Paid Parental Scheme is a good start, but is insufficient in improving work/life balance for Australian families.

Dr Christina Malatzky said despite the introduction of 18 paid weeks of leave, women’s choices remain limited, reflecting the fact that mother-work is undervalued in Australian society today.

“Over the past several decades we’ve seen having children consistently framed as a private concern, instead of being a public good,” Dr Malatzky said.

“The fact is Australia needs women to produce the next generation of citizens and needs women to participate in paid employment, but structural and cultural attitudes are lagging.

“Women are expected to be good mothers and good workers, but these expectations are not generally compatible under the current framework.”

Dr Malatzky said that implicit and explicit penalties existed in Australian workplaces, including barriers to part-time work, children viewed as  ‘interfering’ in women’s career lives, a lack of work-hours flexibility and even physical barriers.

Women she interviewed reported feeling pressured by public health campaigns to breastfeed, yet having no facilities to support the practice in the workplace, with some having to express in toilets or in storage closets where they were apt to be interrupted.

Other concerns had to do with the stigma of part-time work.

“The notion of the good mother who spends time with her children and the good worker come into direct conflict, because the notion of productivity sees part-time workers deemed less productive and, by association, less valuable,” Dr Malatzky said.

“Part-time work is equated with a low-status, female domain, not a path to success. Some companies are resistant to provide part-time work, or they provide mothers returning to the workforce with duties below their previous level.

“This results in demoralisation as well as reduced prospects of promotion, which may be one reason why only three per cent of Australian CEOs are women.”

Even women without families reported feeling perceived as a hiring risk due to the likelihood that they would take ‘time out’ from their professional careers to mother.

Dr Malatzky said government and industry had to do more to assist in the long-term negotiation of parenting and paid work, and that culturally supported part-time paid work models were needed for Australian workplaces.

She suggests Australian could learn from Norway and Sweden, which offer more standardised, generous and flexible maternity and paternity leave packages to their citizens.

“These countries are pursuing equality of the highest standards instead of Australia’s current equality on minimum needs,” she said.

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