At our second Justitia Connect with the excellent assistance of Prue Gilbert of Grace Papers, we unpacked some of the shared experiences of working women and parents over the last one and a half years. Prue is a lawyer, human rights advocate, qualified executive coach and mother. Her company, Grace Papers, offers expert gender equality consulting and advice to workplaces.
Common themes emerged in remarks from Prue and other attendees. Prue identified that the social status quo in which we entered the pandemic continues to affect working women. In a family context, this has meant that gendered norms around domestic and child-raising responsibilities have often seen women on the frontline in the home in addition to their workplace. Responsibilities for remote learning have also often fallen to women, whose days can be peppered with small but repeated disruptions from their children.
There was lots of discussion about “workplace flexibility” that has become a bi-product of COVID. This flexibility has been advantageous in many ways. However, it has also led to women’s days becoming longer than ever before – as family responsibilities become intertwined with work and professional obligations. It was observed that many women have deprioritised their own wellbeing, exercise, and social connection in order to accommodate their professional and household workloads.
These experiences are also far from being isolated to the events of the pandemic. Trends such as the ‘parental leave gap’ have historically hindered women’s professional progression. With male uptake of parental leave being only 5% in Australia, the parental leave gap can exacerbate underlying gendered issues in the workplace. After taking parental leave, women may receive less promotions and commonly return to the workforce in part-time positions. For heterosexual couples, the decision as to who takes parental leave can also be gendered. With the average age for men to have their first child being 33, and women 27, there is a good chance of an age disparity, leading to decisions around parental leave being influenced by age and pay gaps – where men may have progressed further in their careers at the time of having a child. For single parents, the effects of parental leave can be felt even more deeply.
Other harmful gender trends include the promotion and ambition biases, where fewer women are selected for higher-ranking leadership and management positions (despite graduating in greater numbers from universities). In reducing gender imbalances in the workplace and in the home, Prue suggests that any solutions must look to incorporate men in a practical and strategic manner. For heterosexual couples, this may include gender coaching or employers engaging in dialogue with men about the parenting legacies they wish to create. Employers must also normalise flexibility for all employees – not simply their female workforce.
Finally, structural issues – including the gender pay gap, the ‘parental leave gap’, and the ‘promotion gap’ must be targeted in order for any long-term change to be effective and sustainable.
We are exceedingly grateful to Prue Gilbert and to all of our Justitia Connect attendees for joining us in this important discussion. If you would like further information about Justitia Connect, please contact email@example.com
 Australian Bureau of Statistics, ‘One in 20 dads take primary parental leave’ (Media Release, Canberra, 19 September 2017). See: https://www.abs.gov.au/ausstats/abs@.nsf/Lookup/by%20Subject/4125.0~Sep%202017~Media%20Release~One%20in%2020%20dads%20take%20primary%20parental%20leave%20(Media%20Release)~11