In this series of diversity articles, Andrew Stevens, former Managing Director of IBM Australia and New Zealand and proactive member of Male Champions of Change, takes a closer look at the economic rationale behind a woman’s right to choose to return to work following parental leave.
The key word is ‘choose’, but research by the Australian Human Rights Commission shows that this choice is often taken away for a variety of reasons.
Here, Andrew shares the background on his commitment to equality of opportunity, and makes the economic case for more women returning to work if they choose to.
Opening question: What does equality of opportunity mean for you?
The number one thing I believe in is equality of opportunity. I don’t subscribe to equality of outcome, i.e. that everybody should have the same outcome. Then, based on each person’s unique mix of capabilities, skills, and insight, their outcome will be determined in terms of their career and their fulfilment.
At the heart of it, if 51 per cent of the population, being female, has an impaired level of opportunity, then you know you’re making the world work better on an economic and social front by getting behind the move for change.
It’s something that really drives me. I just couldn’t not get involved in this.
When it comes to gender equality, the person who has the unique mix of capabilities that is right for that role should also have the opportunity. They should not be limited by economic reasons, moral reasons, human rights reasons, or anything else. The limiting factor doesn’t matter – it’s not up to us to define that part. We just need to provide equal opportunity in the first place.
At the heart of it, if 51 per cent of the population, being female, has an impaired level of opportunity, then you know you’re making the world work better on an economic and social front by getting behind the move for change. Andrew Stevens
A closer look at workforce participation
Let’s look at the issue of workforce participation, and the research that the Australian Human Rights Commission undertook regarding the issue of parental leave discrimination. They looked at the request for parental leave, the taking of this leave, and the point when someone returns from this leave.
As an example, 22 per cent of women who have been discriminated against – either during, before or after parental leave – never return to the workforce. That’s a one-in-ten reduction from an already-low percentage of women who are in the workforce.
Our female workforce percentage has increased from the 1960s, of course, but it’s lower than it could and should be.
I think the answer lies in inclusiveness. It’s about self-worth and value at the individual level. A woman’s choice is a woman’s choice, and if she chooses not to return to work for reasons outside of discrimination then that is her personal choice, fair and square. But all women should have fair and equal access to this choice.
The community perspective
When you look at the community level, it becomes about encouraging wider involvement and getting everybody involved, feeling included, and making a contribution. I think that’s a good thing for companies and their country.
In terms of productivity, we can use the general measure of productivity as economic output per person. We’ve got 900,000 women in Australia that are not or not fully involved in the workforce. Often they can’t afford to return to work as childcare fees are too prohibitive, or because they simply don’t feel empowered to return to their workplace owing to limited opportunities for career advancement, or limited flexibility. This is a huge issue.
If even a significant percentage of these 900,000 women were able to choose to return to work if they wish, this would be a significant economic outcome for Australia and a positive addition to the Australian standard of living.
The economic equation for a nation of 900,000 women to be potentially more involved is a powerful argument.
The Male Champions of Change (MCC) is a collaborative initiative of corporate and institutional leaders convened by Elizabeth Broderick, Sex Discrimination Commissioner, Australian Human Rights Commission. Male Champions of Change, once awarded, are members of the organisation for life.
Andrew Stevens is a former IBM Managing Director. He is a member of the Business Council of Australia, the Council of Governors of the American Chamber of Commerce in Australia, and on the Business Advisory Council at the University of New South Wales.
Written by Thread Publishing (threadpublishing.com) in support of Male Champions of Change. Connecting the world one story at a time to bring humanity back into business. © 2014
Learn more about Male Champions of Change.
Photos: Unsplashed; Male Champions of Change.