I’ve written a few times about how progressing women in the workplace also involves more change than just the workplace. Annabel Crabb puts it best:
In focusing so hard on encouraging women to lean in, we’ve neglected to convince men of their entitlement to lean out once in a while.
In my post about progressing women in leadership, I made a similar point:
… a sustainable increase in the proportion of women in leadership roles in public society as a whole will only happen with a sustainable increase in the proportion of men taking leadership roles in the home.
All NAB employees can now take paid primary carer leave anytime within the first 12 months of a child’s life. Previously, it was only available to the primary carer for 12 weeks on the birth or adoption of a child, or 24 weeks at half-pay.
The change is subtle, but important. While in theory, paid parental leave at NAB was available to men or women, it was only available to the primary carer straight after the birth of the child. That makes it pretty unlikely that a father is going to take it.
Now, however, a mother can take the initial leave, and a father can take leave, up to 12 weeks of it paid, later on in the first year of a child’s life, as long as they are the primary carer. For NAB fathers, that means that there is a benefit that they can only get by deciding to be a primary carer during the first year of their child’s life.
It’s likely to provide some similar incentives to the “use-it-or-lose-it” approach to (government paid) parental leave in Sweden:
Swedish parents now receive a total of 480 days of leave per child, 390 days of which is paid at 80 per cent of salary (up to a maximum of $162 a day).
Two months of this is reserved for the man, and the rest can be shared between the parents however they prefer. As of 2012, Swedish men took 24 per cent of the leave, meaning each on average stays home and looks after each baby or toddler for a little over three months.
In Sweden, the anecdotal evidence has been that that initial practice of being a primary carer has long term benefits in the sharing of parental responsibilities within families. The culture there has changed longer term, so that it is no longer just seen as a female job to look after the children:
Swedes claim that those three months of being the main stay-at-home carer give men a stronger bond with their child, make them more likely to do their share of housework, and mean they have a better understanding of what childcare involves.
I hope NAB’s example spreads; even if we are unlikely to have a Swedish approach to government provided leave, a gradual spread through the private sector is likely to lead to some cultural change.
Annabel Crabb again:
the power of Australia’s strong male-breadwinner culture is almost elemental. It’s not impossible, illegal or even particularly impractical for a woman to be the main breadwinner in a family, or for a father to stay at home with his children. It’s just that the gravitational pull of the orthodox arrangement is very, very strong.
The more time fathers spend with their children, particularly as the primary carer, the more it will be seen as a normal event. And the easier it will be for the next father who wants to spend time with his kids.