What about the “Working Dads”?
“We need to address the barriers that prevent men from accessing parental leave and flexible work arrangements (to) address the barriers that prevent women from full and equal participation.”
– Fiona MacDonald, Diversity & Inclusion Lead, ANZ
'The working dad' Illustration by: Melissa Currie
It was early afternoon on a typical weekday – on a day and at a time he would usually be sitting at his office desk, analysing the business, investigating current systems and processes and assessing customer experience.
But Rohan James, a Journey Expert in Responsible Banking, was on his way to pick up his four year old son, William from childcare. An hour earlier he’d had a call notifying him William had been injured and needed to be collected.
“You know, he’s the only child here that asks for “Daddy” instead of “Mummy,” one of the carers at the centre told Rohan.
“That was a very important thing for me to hear,” says Rohan. “When you hear that, you think ‘Success!’ I’ve built a powerful bond with my son and at a very early age.”
Parental leave for dads
Rohan utilised a year of parental leave for both of their two children Alex (7) and William (4),taking on the mantel of primary carer after they turned one.
“[My wife and I] both work at banks so both had access to support. We were closely aligned with our incomes at the time so it came down to pure biology,” Rohan says of the mutual decision to have his wife stay at home to breastfeed the boys for the first year before he took on the key role.
For Lalith Kumar, a Client Services Manager at Institutional Banking, and his wife Louise, the parental leave options available at ANZ allowed him to “enjoy/learn the primary care giver experience for a good 11 weeks”.
“Louise and I both work for ANZ. I took a week’s worth of parental leave as soon as our first child was born (May 2017), followed by 11 weeks as soon as Louise returned to work (January 2018),” explains Lalith.
“The initial plan was for Louise to take a year off work, however the ‘Parental leave for dads’ option enabled Louise to return to work mid-way.”
Rob Lichtendonk, a District Manager in Australia Retail and Commercial Banking says being a father to four boys who were all born within four years of each other meant having access to ANZ’s parental leave has been extremely valuable.
Rob says it was his ability to take parental leave at ANZ that enabled his wife Jemma, a teacher, to return to work. “Jemma was keen to stay at home with the children while they were young; however, she was also keen to keep her hand in teaching,” he says.
According to a 2018-19 public report from the Workplace Gender Equality Agency (WGEA), 1344 of the ANZ participants (non-managers) who took parental leave as primary carer during the reporting period were female. Only 467 were male. Just 35 per cent.
“The research both in Australia and overseas shows that men and women sharing the caring responsibilities lead to better outcomes for children and families,” says Fiona MacDonald, Diversity & Inclusion Lead at ANZ.
“We need to do more to address the barriers that prevent men from accessing parental leave and flexible work arrangements which will in turn address the barriers that prevent women from full and equal participation in the workforce.”
She adds “while this discussion primarily relates to heterosexual, nuclear families, we recognise this is only one type of family structure. There are obviously many other types of family structures – each with their own challenges and inequalities.”
Expectations and perceptions
So with the parental leave and flexible working policies which are accessible to both genders as the primary carer, why aren’t more men in our organisation choosing to take advantage of them?
Annabel Crabb’s newly released Quarterly Essay may have an apt explanation.
A 2017 survey conducted by recruitment agency Hays asked 842 men and women about access to parental leave - only 19 per cent of respondents believed their employers treated men and women equally in this respect.
“Of the men surveyed, 54 per cent said they were reluctant to take leave because to do so would damage their families financially. And 34 per cent said they feared they'd be seen as less committed at work,” says Annabel.
“Twelve per cent of respondents said parental leave was the right and responsibility of the mother.”
Although most of the comments the men in this story received from colleagues were of a positive nature, such as “We could never take parental leave back in our day. You’re lucky!” from older male colleagues, there were also comments (apparently made in jest) such as “Oh, you just had a three month holiday” or “you must be refreshed from being at home and doing nothing all that time”.
Seemingly, the stigma around men taking parental leave and utilising flexible working policies still exists. “I’ve taken advantage of the flexible leave policy but it wasn’t just offered to me – I really had to push for it,” says an anonymous source.
“I think the policy is written better now but at the time I had to try and justify [the request to work flexibly].”
He compares the flexible working policy of today to the one back then. “In today’s manager’s guide it says ‘you shouldn’t be asking ‘why?’ you should be asking ‘why not?’. Whereas, at the time I was being asked ‘Why do you want to do this?’, ‘Why do you need to be at home?’ ‘Why? Your wife is looking after the children. You shouldn’t need to be at home.’”
Gender neutral experience
“One of the reasons I took the leave was I wanted to experience the traditional female role of home duties,” says Rohan. “I suspect the experience is very similar - being home/care-giver is gender neutral – the same highs, the same lows.”
“The women at the children’s play park are initially a little stand-offish but once they see you a few times then you can easily connect over the similarities: the mind numbing tedium, the frustrations of little-people management, the appreciation that a roast chicken from a super-market can save your family’s dinner if the day gets away from you, the constant amazement at the cost of utilities and dreams of sunny climates when standing in a grey, cold park in a Melbourne winter pushing a impervious child on the swings.”
“I’d also say the experience that some women have expressed upon return to work is similar to what I felt too,” continues Rohan. “People thought that my brain had atrophied over the break and upon return could only be given simple tasks, but eventually you rebuild your ‘brand’ and the challenging tasks come your way.”
Gender aside, can anyone really have it all?
Interestingly, two of the men that contributed to this story said that even though they felt ready for a new and more challenging role at work, the fact that they became caregivers has put a halt on their career progression.
One of the men had expressed interest in a new, higher paying position and asked the hiring manager what kind of hours needed to be invested in the role, to which the hiring manager replied “At least a 60 hour week”.
“I know I’m going to be averaging 36 hours so I avoided that role,” says the man. “It hurts to know I’m deliberately limiting my career because I’m taking the option to put my family first. Part of me wants to apologise and say ‘I hope I didn’t waste your time. I hope I don’t come across as lazy or disengaged. I hope I don’t come across as some kind of flake that doesn’t want to work hard.’”
It’s not an uncommon experience.
According to ANZ’s 2019 engagement survey men who reported utilising parental leave over the past 12 months were more engaged than men who had not utilised parental leave and more engaged than the overall ANZ population.
“I’m extremely proud of who we are at ANZ. We’re a fantastic employer and the support that we receive has allowed us to live life and have so many great experiences,” says Rohan.
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