Thursday, June 27, 2013

Discrimination against pregnant women investigated

Last week Julia Gillard asked the Human Rights Commission to look into workplace discrimination against women who have children. The Sex Discrimination Commissioner, Elizabeth Broderick, will oversee a national survey to get an accurate picture of discrimination against pregnant women and those going back to work after parental leave. You can listen to the full audio file here.

We're interested to hear what your personal experience has been. Have you or perhaps someone you know experienced workplace discrimination when pregnant or returning to work due to your 'caring' responsibilities?

mums@work | 28.6.13
Image: Free Digital Images -  han255


Monday, June 24, 2013

"Manager resistance" the biggest telework obstacle

One of the biggest barriers to successful telework arrangements is not the productivity of staff members working remotely, but their managers, says Macquarie University researcher Dr Yvette Blount.

"We haven't got a problem at the CEO level or the senior management level - conceptually they get that offering flexible work practices like telework is an important thing," she says.

HR departments, particularly in large organisations, already have policies in place to field flexible work requests; employees, too, are generally on board.

"But when you talk about the managers that have to manage this whole situation, that's where there's still a bit of an issue, because there is some management resistance to this," she says.

"You have to think about communication, you have to make sure your employees don't feel isolated, you have to make sure that the employees who aren't physically present still know what's going on in the organisation and are part of that culture.

"[Managers] have to have the skills to be able to manage these people, and I think that's missing."

Blount, a research coordinator for the Australian anywhere working (telework) research network, says the problem is understandable - but not insurmountable.

A lot of organisations are already sold on telework. Their managers have the support they need and are doing it well. As more success stories get out and benefits are realised, attitudes will change, she says.

Coupled with training and policies designed to guide and support managers, these success stories will help managers to see that telework is a viable way to harness the skills and capabilities their organisation needs, and to retain their staff.

Blount says that to ensure the success of teleworking, HR professionals must first consider the business case for the proposed arrangement, including the suitability of the role and the individual.

"You have to think about job design - how do I design this job so the employee can work flexibly?"

HR professionals also have to have an understanding of whether the individual is suited to telework, and have processes for managers to follow when the arrangements aren't working out, she says.

Some of the most common objections to telework, for example, "If I can't see you, I don't know what you're doing", can be debunked, Mount adds.

"I could be here today, present at work, but I could just sit here all day, looking at social media and the newspapers - I might not do anything at all," she says.

New options on the horizon
Another issue that often arises in relation to telework or "anywhere working" is the notion that a worker either works from home or the central office - which doesn't suit everybody - but employers' options are growing, Blount says.

Smart hubs - that is, centrally-located offices that cater for very small businesses and remote workers who can't or don't want to work from home - are already up and running in Melbourne and Sydney.

These include "break-out centres" where employees can hold meetings and interact, kitchens and workspaces, and increasingly, short courses and conferences.

Meanwhile, plans for "smart work centres" - which will be larger, located in more urban areas, and geared towards organisations as opposed to individuals - are also underway.

They'll cater for multiple organisations that want to give employees a secure place to work remotely, including government agencies and banks.

"A smart work centre is somewhere people can go that's near their local area - so they don't have to do a big commute - but they have access to all the technology they need in a secure environment. They also have access to the other things that they need - childcare, dry-cleaning, cafes - those sorts of services," she says. A number of centres have already been established overseas, and are proving successful.

The work centres will be especially attractive to workers who endure long commutes on a daily basis. The NSW Central Coast, for example, currently has about 40,000 residents commuting to Sydney and Newcastle every day.

But their employers will benefit too, Blount says.

"If you've got employees that are commuting a long way and they can work one or two days a week from [closer to] home, automatically those employees are going to feel less stressed."

The work centres will also mean that remote workers can still work collaboratively.

"If you need to have meetings with colleagues, or interact with other people, and it's easier for them to get to a smart work centre, then it's good to have that option."

Don't assume fewer distractions means improved productivity
One of the most common employer benefits cited for teleworking arrangements is increased productivity due to fewer "distractions", but the notion shouldn't be accepted at face value, Blount says.

"You have to be careful saying that," she warns.

"It's one thing to talk about individual productivity, but you also have to think about team productivity and organisational productivity.

"If I was working from home today I might feel a lot more productive, because I'm ticking things off my to-do list," she explains.

If a student or colleague were to knock on her office door, however, she wouldn't be there to answer.

In one of her research interviews, Blount asked some workers how they contacted one of their colleagues when she was working from home. "Oh no," they said, "we don't want to disturb her - we wait until she comes back the next day".

They failed to recognise that she was supposed to be available, and that interrupting her for work reasons was just as valid when she was working from a different location, she says.

Blount is presenting the findings of her research at the
Digital Productivity in the Workplace of the Future Conference conference in Sydney next week. 

mums@work | 25.6.13
Image: Free Digital Images -  stockimages              

Sunday, June 16, 2013

To work or stay at home?

We found this article to be a very well-rounded look at this important topic. It offers an interesting comparison between American and Australian families, as well as showing varied sides of the debate. What do you think? How does your family deal – does mum stay at home or work part-time or full-time?

To work or stay at home?


Is the disproportionate share of full time female workers in Australia due to lack of choice?

And it's a real tough one in Australia at the moment, with a noticeable disparity between the full time participation of females in the Australian workforce versus that in many other developed countries.

The Washington Post recently reported that America's working mothers are now the primary breadwinners in a record 40 per cent of households with children - a milestone in the changing face of modern families, up from just 11 per cent in 1960.

The findings by the Pew Research Center, released on May 22nd, highlighted the growing influence of "breadwinner moms" who keep their families afloat financially. While most are single mothers, a growing number are families with married mothers who bring in more income than their husbands.
This is opposite in Australia and according to recent research and an article in the SMH, Australia is different in that fewer mothers are working full-time, but represent around three quarters of part-time workers. About 85 per cent of all fathers with a youngest child under the age of five work full-time - but for mothers in that category, the rate is about 19 per cent. In our recent survey 40 per cent of our respondents were working full time and the same number were working part time.

The disproportionate female share of part-time employment has kept the good old Aussie Breadwinner in his traditional position and even though women have greatly increased their involvement in paid work over several decades (and are now pretty much on par with men in terms of their numbers in the workforce – full and part-time), mothers still tend to be secondary earners.
According to the Australian Bureau of Statistics the female participation rate, which has been steadily growing since the 1960s, is now slowing down. The proportion of women aged 15-64 in the workforce is now lower than it was four years ago.

The high cost of child care and lack of child care places is being largely blamed for this situation.
In the SMH article, Patricia Apps, Professor in public economics at the University of Sydney, argues that if childcare worked more like the school system, women's workforce participation would surge, savings would improve, the tax base would grow and the fertility rate would rise.

High "effective marginal tax rates" on women returning to work after having children - a feature of Australia's tax and welfare system - has also been blamed for entrenching women as secondary earners.

All mothers would probably like to spend more time at home with their kids, including those who are committed to their careers and love their jobs, but with the cost of living and property in Australia increasing far more than people's salaries, spending time at home with your babies is not always an option. In our recent survey only 21 per cent of stay at home mums were at home by choice. The rest were at home due to lack of work, lack of employer flexibility or inability to find suitable child care.

Part-time work could be on the increase as a viable option and many women are in fact choosing this path, as opposed to being forced down it. The rise in child care costs, lack of child care places in urban areas, rise in cost of living and means testing for child care benefit has meant that with the advent of high speed broadband we have also seen the rise of the "mumpreneur", running a business from home, as well as the increase in flexible working opportunities and the option to work from home either completely or on a part time basis.

And as far as working from home is concerned or at least working part time in an office, frankly you can get twice the work done when you're an efficient working mum with child care deadlines than you ever did when you had the whole day to faff around taking breaks and staying at work until late, so in effect you can get a normal 5-day a week job done in 3 days anyway. Of course you only get paid for 3 days but you get to spend the other 2 with your kids.

However the disparity does still need to be addressed. Families are struggling with the high cost of childcare, lack of places for the under twos and the increase in the cost of living way outstripping the increase in salaries.

Women are still fighting to get equal position and equal pay in major companies. Many women love their jobs and want to get to the top, with or without kids. And they should be able to. The share of board members is still largely male and pay is still skewed in favour of male workers. Not all female workers have kids, by the way so there's absolutely no argument for why their salaries shouldn't be the same as their male counterparts and not all working mothers have partners to support them.
The increase in single parenting, divorce rates and cost of living mean that many women simply do not have the choice.

So how can we help mothers to be able to stay at home or work, based on choice rather than necessity?

  1. More child care places available, to make working possible.
  2. Tax deductible child care to make working more viable.
  3. Real flexible work options.
  4. Broadening of eligibility for in home care for those who work out of normal hours.
  5. More assistance for single parents.
  6. Qualification of nannies for child care rebate/benefit.
We'd love to hear what you think on this subject.

mums@work | 17.6.13
Image: Free Digital Images - Ambro

Sunday, June 2, 2013

Why the world's most powerful women deserve a list

Gail Kelly, CEO Westpac
mums@work client’s CEO, Gail Kelly makes the ‘World’s 100 Most Powerful Women’ list. Amoung the likes of Beyonce and Julia Gillard, we wanted to proudly announce and congratulate Gail Kelly!

There is a powerful message sent to celebrate the success of some of the world’s most influential women. All power to them! Continue reading here.

mums@work | 3.6.13
Image: Westpac