Former Managing Director of IBM Australia and New Zealand, Andrew Stevens, is deeply frustrated by the issue of discrimination around parental rights at work. In this conversation with Andrew, he appeals to more people to get fired up on the issue that potentially affects any parent in the workforce.
Opening question: You said in a recent article you were getting angrier about gender inequality, not calmer. Can you explain this?
Well, 51 per cent of our population is potentially being disadvantaged by virtue of being female. So yes, I’m getting angrier about this inequality, it’s hard to stay calm.
The statistics are so stark. I’ve learnt about domestic violence from Liz [Broderick], about its prevalence and the implications for companies. One in 10 employees of any business could well be in an abusive relationship – how should we deal with that?
But also, let’s look at the number of women and men who are discriminated against in the workforce around the issue of parental leave. The data just doesn’t get any better. The gap between how I think it should be and the opportunity that we each should have, and where we actually are placed, is far wider than I first perceived. The more I study, and the more I learn, the more motivated I become to try to change this imbalance.
Suffering in silence
When I last searched for ‘pregnancy and return to work’ news articles, I found only two articles. One was by a female journalist who, in my opinion, attacked the government’s National Review mercilessly. She pretty much said, ‘They’re over- funded. Why are they wasting their money on such a study?’
I just don’t get it, this resistance to the findings.
Why isn’t there more outrage on the findings? Nearly half (49 per cent) of mothers reported that they experienced what they perceived as unfair treatment or discrimination in the workplace at some point during their pregnancy, parental leave or return to work. And yet 91 per cent of these women didn’t make a formal complaint. Almost one third (32 per cent) ended up looking for another job or resigning and 22 per cent permanently left the workplace as a result. Over a quarter of men have experienced similar discrimination when either requesting parental leave, taking it, or returning to work.
Why don’t we speak up? Are you okay with half of all women experiencing discrimination around their parental leave? Does that meet your personal standards?
This is why I don’t like just going to events on this issue where the converted talk to the converted. I may be fired up, but I want to reach the people who aren’t fired up.
I’m emboldened to do more, which is why I get involved in ASX (Australian Stock Exchange) initiatives on this issue and why I support the 50-50 Future Leaders Event and other forums.
It’s as though people are just accepting this and saying, ‘Well, its been going on forever.’ I’m trying to find ways to shine the torch on this to get people a bit stirred up, so that they say, ‘You know what? Let’s change this. Let’s do it.’
Going beyond business
Business is a good lens to try and do something about this issue, but I don’t think it’s enough. We’ve got to go wider. Moving the needle at the country level is an entirely different scenario compared with the strong leadership shown by a handful of companies right now.
And I’m not going to rest until we do go wider on this issue. I don’t mind someone arguing with me about this. In fact, it’s good, because then they’ll learn more about this issue. People learn pretty quickly after they see the overwhelming data.
As far as I’m concerned, there’s a benefit for everybody if this issue can change. I can’t find any downside at all, other than men feeling like women may get an unfair advantage for a period. I don’t think there’s any doubt that that’s going to take precedence.
With 900,000 women either not in employment or underemployed in Australia right now, there is such a lost opportunity for the women within this group who want to return to work after becoming a mother. This is no minority group we’re talking about – up to 51% of the population face this issue, and other similar issues around discrimination.
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
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