Making the most of men and women at work and at home

I’ve just spent a year at home caring for my children after quitting a job in Melbourne to return to Perth for the sake of my husband’s health. It was the right and fair thing to do as he had spent two years at home caring for our children while I pursued my career ambitions. And that’s how it works between us. We share the caring and share the paid work. It’s all 50:50, and while it has been the most rewarding path it certainly has not been the easiest. We’ve lost count of the number of times we’ve both been told our careers will amount to nothing. Maybe so, but we don’t think our lives will amount to nothing. We’ve endured the remarks that part timers are unproductive and always looking at the exit. Funnily enough a HR Manager once told me that in his experience part timers were the most productive workers he’d seen as they were grateful for the opportunity to work part time and wanted to keep up as much as possible with everything at work.

So what do you do when your boss tells you that a man working full time while his wife sells Thermomix (Avon is long gone in seems) from home is the only way to live in the twenty-first century.  I say you start a conversation with your boss about why they think like that. And then you throw in some facts. Maybe you’ll change their mind, maybe you won’t, but at least the issue is now on their radar.

According to the Australian Work and Life Index (AWALI) 2012 (prepared by the University of South Australia)

  • Full-time women’s dissatisfaction with their work-life balance has risen (from 15.9 per cent in 2008 to 27.5 per cent in 2012) while men’s has showed no change.
  • In 2012, the gap between full-time women’s actual and preferred hours is the largest since 2007. On average they would prefer to work 8.7 hours a week less than they actually do.
  • 41.8 per cent of mothers in full-time employment would prefer to work part-time – the largest proportion since 2007.
  • Women who combine care of children with other care responsibilities – the ‘sandwich’ generation – have worse work-life outcomes than any other category (with AWALI scores of 54.2).
  • Women are much more likely to work part-time (69.5 per cent of part-timers are women and almost half of women work part time) with implications for their life-time and retirement earnings, training and job quality.
  • Most men working long hours (72.0 per cent) would prefer to work at least half a day less.

Unpaid work in the household economy is of enormous value; intrinsic and economic.  The ‘economic value’ of unpaid housework according to Dr Ironmonger was $471b in 2000 (with GDP $604b in that same year) with most of this in child care, meal preparation, laundry and house-cleaning. All activities a man is equally capable of.

The challenges we all face to turn this situation around are:

  • enabling women access to, and promoting women into decision-making roles
  • sharing the ‘caring’ among women and men
  • supporting both men and women to ‘call out’ gender biased behaviour
  • the economic empowerment of women and placing a value on ‘unpaid’ domestic work
  • normalising women as the ‘breadwinners’
  • changing the model of leadership and workplace structures to facilitate flexibility, engagement and collaboration

The policy options include:

  • Paid paternity leave – employers pay fathers who take leave for 6 months to care for their children (between the ages of 6 months and 4 years) at 50% of their salary (the government matching each dollar to a maximum of $50,000).  Men are only eligible for this leave if their wives have returned to work.
  • On-site childcare at public primary schools – all public primary schools provide on-site before and after school care funded by parents (on an ‘ability to pay’ sliding scale) with the upfront capital cost met through a 1%  levy on corporate Australian companies whose profits regularly exceed $500m.
  • Mandatory ‘care’ work for all employees – all employees should spend one week a year working in an aged care or child care institution.
  • Government supported ‘consumer-directed’ child and aged care packages – working parents of children under the age of 12, and working adults with parents over the age of 80 can receive flexible care support packages from the government which include subsidised options depending on the individual circumstances.  This may include payments for in home care, at school care, or institutionalised care eg nursing homes and day care centres.
  • Targets for women in corporate Executive roles – Executive managers drive the culture of an organisation, not Boards.  Targets for women in Executive positions can bring about the change needed in workplace culture to facilitate greater participation by women.

About Cilla DeLacy

Cilla DeLacy

Cilla has 20 years’ experience in public policy and corporate strategy across the water, land use planning and environmental management sectors. She’s a creative thinker with an uncanny ability to understand people and situations. Putting pen to paper on the big issues impacting Australia and indeed the globe is important to her as is actively bringing about the change she wishes to see in the world. An avid supporter of gender equality and sustainability she and her husband have built and promoted a sustainable home and role modelled the benefits of two parents ‘sharing the work’ and ‘sharing the caring.’ Cilla laments the lack of Vision and collaboration in political life in Australia and hopes to help change things. Cilla blogs at

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