NSW Premier Dominic Perrottet this week sparked a huge debate after announcing he plans to take two-and-a-half weeks paternity leave to welcome Celeste Grace into the world.

The father-of-seven is setting the pace with his new daughter’s birth. More than half of Aussie firms now offer paid parental leave to men and women, and while the offer has not yet been universally embraced by men – only 12 per cent take it up – it is growing.

It’s all part of the changing face of child rearing in Australia – and in some companies at least, it is being actively encouraged.

Many young couples now know about the debilitating effects of leaning on women to give up their careers and spend up to five years looking after the kids. Its effects are felt on careers, super savings and the gender pay gap.

So Mr Perrottet’s move is seen as a bit of a message to his fellow males.

Research from The Workplace Gender Equality Agency shows that more than three million workers have access to paid parental leave policies, with many employers shifting to a gender-neutral approach.

But while more than half the organisations the agency looked at offer paid leave to both men or women, mothers accounted for 88% of the leave taken and fathers just 12%.

Corporate leadership expert Kirstin Ferguson recommends dads-to-be get familiar with their company policy to assess factors like how much notice is required when they wish to take leave, along with checking whether it must be taken during the first year or can be spread over two years.

“Until we have more men taking time off after the birth of their children, the burden will continue to primarily rest with women.”

The reports of Mr Perrottet’s move evoked interesting reactions on business site linkedin.

“Take paternity leave. The only regret as a father you could have on this is not taking it…. I’ve taken unpaid leave as well in the past – the time with your kids flies by” said one executive.

“Work will always be there. And the old chestnut “we cant possibly spare you” is risable. Work would need to make do if you got hit by a bus without warning – so grown ups should be able to make a plan together for you to be away from the business to spend time with your kids.” 

Said another: “There’s no reason why men can’t be great primary carers, just like women can be excellent tradies, truck drivers, engineers, CEOs, world leaders, and people with disabilities can excel in any profession! Why? Because it’s 2022.”

Some companies are leading the way in parental leave policies. 

Last October Stockland announced a new parental leave policy that provides parents with up to 24 months leave that can be taken flexibly, increased paid parental leave to 20 weeks and no longer differentiates between primary and secondary carer. 

The company also pays superannuation on both the paid and unpaid portions of parental leave.

Stockland Managing Director and CEO, Tarun Gupta said in a statement that there is no one size fits all approach to becoming a parent.

“Offering a truly flexible approach to parental leave is about delivering on our ongoing commitment to gender equity and work-life integration.

“The policy acknowledges the important role parents play in Australian society. By removing the carer distinction, our people can structure their parental leave with the freedom to decide how to use the time and how to support the ongoing care of a young child with the eventual return to work.”

The company has noticed a 64% increase in the number of men taking parental leave and the number is increasing annually.

Another company that’s paving the way in gender equality is Mirvac – voted best in the world for its policies in 2022.

Mirvac group general manager of human resources Ben Morris told the Brisbane Times that men accounted for half the employees taking parental leave at the company. He suggested this was because of the company’s culture of flexibility for all employees, including those who don’t have any childcare responsibilities.

Medibank was one of the first companies to introduce a parental leave policy that gives prospective parents 14 weeks of paid leave within the first 24 months of a child’s life or adoption.

As part of the policy, they removed the ‘primary’ and ‘secondary’ carer labels and refer to them only as a parent.

The policy has been successful, with 27% of all parental leave being taken by men, which is in proportion to the total number of male employees, which sits at 27%.

A Medibank spokesperson says: “At Medibank, a parent is a parent regardless of their gender or the makeup of their family. It’s important that men are supported to play an active role in their families and we encourage equal and shared parenting responsibilities. 

“Our people are human who hold a range of different roles outside of work and they should be able to contribute in all aspects of their life. This is at the heart of our approach to the way we work.”

One company that’s following WGEA’s advice and encouraging men to take PPL is Deloitte.

Deloitte Australia Chief Human Resources Officer, Ms Tina McCreery says: 

“Since launching a refreshed Parental Leave Policy and Flex Policy in 2019, Deloitte has continued to drive a focus on encouraging men to play an active, caring role. In 2020, we launched a refreshed intranet resource hub with a range of new tools and resources, including access to a podcast series specifically tailored for Dads. 

“We have continued to share stories and profile dads when talking about Parental Leave and Flexibility to the workforce. Males now make up 50% of all people who take Parental Leave at Deloitte –  up from 30% in 2018.”

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