Thursday, April 17, 2014

Looking for benefits? Then stay in work

If ever a reminder was needed of how little society values the women’s work of mothering, there it is.

Buried in a recent New York Times education supplement was a chirpy feature entitled Getting Women Back Into the Game. It reported that big US law firms and banks were offering special programs to women who want to re-enter the workforce after years out of it – years spent mothering. These programs were given the perky moniker of ‘‘ mumternships’’.

It’s hard to think of a more hideous Americanism, or a more patronising term – it defines a woman’s place in the workplace entirely in reference to her status as a ‘‘ mum’’.

But the main problem with the ‘‘ mumternship’ ’ was in the fine print. One of the programs, which four major firms had signed up to, offered women returning to the workplace one-year jobs with a salary of $125,000.

‘‘ While the salary is lower than the typical $160,000 paid to associates just out of law school,’’ the article read, ‘‘ the hope is that fellows will be offered permanent positions at the end of a year.’’

If ever a reminder was needed of how little society values the women’s work of mothering, there it is.

Get a good degree, rise quickly in your profession, take time out to raise the next generation, and when you come back? Sorry, princess. The corner office is taken and you’re now earning less than 80 per cent of the salary of the hipster graduate who just bought his/her first suit. Oh, and you have no job security.

‘‘ Mumternship’ ’ is one answer to a very middle-class problem – highly qualified career women who leave the workforce for several years to devote themselves to mothering and find it difficult to regain a foothold in it.

Another New York Times article, published last year, provided a fascinating study of this phenomenon. A journalist went back and re-interviewed a group of women who, a decade previously, had spoken proudly about how they were leaving their high-powered jobs and empowering themselves as full-time mothers and home-managers .

Nearly a decade and a global financial crisis later, and the results of this social experiment were mixed.

Some women had divorced and were substantially poorer than before. Others had suffered psychologically because of the changed power dynamic in their relationships with their husbands . Some had low self-esteem and were bored. Others had found lower paid jobs. Some had husbands who resented them for not contributing to household finances for so long.

Most women (and a good many men) would kill to have the problems these mothers do. Being able to opt out of work for any extended period is a luxury not many of us have.

But the article exposed a fault-line in the battle for gender equity – despite feminism supposedly being about offering women greater lifestyle choice, the immutable reality is that women must do salaried work well into old age if they want to even broach equality with men.

Age Discrimination Commissioner Susan Ryan says on average women retire with about half the retirement savings men do, and they live longer. Why should we care? Because the less super women have, the more likely they are to rely on the aged pension, and the blow-out in the aged pension is something we need to watch.

Despite pre-budget focus on the Disability Support Pension, and the affordability of the National Disability Insurance Scheme, the old-aged pension costs the taxpayer double what the DSP does, and is growing faster.

When it comes to women and superannuation , Prime Minister Tony Abbott is giving with one hand and taking with the other. While Abbott’s paid parental leave scheme will include superannuation payments, unlike the current Labor-created scheme, the Prime Minister has also pledged to repeal the low income superannuation contribution.

Under this Labor policy, the government tips up to $500 directly into the super accounts of people on incomes of $37,000 or less. These low-paid workers are largely women. The government says the spending was linked to the mining tax, and given the tax’s revenue has fallen catastrophically short of projections , we can no longer afford it.

At the moment, women tend to retire earlier than men, perhaps to keep company with their husbands (who tend to be a little older). But Ryan says that ‘‘ the most important thing that women can do to keep up their super is keep on working’’ .

She welcomes the fact we have a government that is preparing the public for the prospect that future generations will have to work longer. The cultural mood is one of workforce participation – getting women back into the workforce after children, having people work longer, and getting the physically disabled and mentally ill working when and where they can.

Governments are slowly catching up with the cultural change but policy still lags. Childcare is too expensive, super tax breaks are skewed to the rich and not enough is being done to address the gender pay gap. The next battlegrounds are the bias against older workers, and the unpaid work of carers.

It could be that productivity would improve if many of the women who currently work as unpaid carers entered the workforce and paid someone else, someone who specialises in ‘‘ caring’’ , to do their at-home work.

Former prime minister Julia Gillard liked to talk about the ‘‘ benefits and dignity of work’’ . It was a phrase my colleagues and I used to lightly mock (’’Feeling the benefits and dignity of work today, mate?’’ as someone shouts at their crashed computer). But she had a point.

The dignity of one’s work may be questionable at times, but its benefits seldom are.

By: Jacqueline Maley
Originally printed: 5 April 2014
Source: Sydney Morning Herald Digital Edition

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Stand up Australia. Our working mums and dads deserve better – 1 in 2 mothers and 1 in 4 fathers experience discrimination in the workplace

An astounding and worrying statistic emerged last week from the National Survey conducted as part of the Pregnancy and Return to Work National Review. 1 in 2 mothers and 1 in 4 fathers experience discrimination in the workplace.

Equally astonishing is the perceived lack of outrage expressed in the media – in fact, there's been barely any follow up after the initial headlines aired in the mainstream news. Why is this?

If we follow recent history of discrimination faced by footballers on the field or other media personalities, the news coverage for the story can last for days until the perpetrator is named and shamed. Shaming here isn't the point (awareness and change are) but it does highlight how inconsistent our values and standards can be. Ordinary mums and dads face discrimination every day – at a stage in their lives when many are vulnerable both emotionally and financially. These parents are expected to juggle it all and suffer in silence as they raise our next economy-boosting generation and future leaders (who will, let's not forget, be tackling our looming aged care crisis).

This issue is far too important to be dropped – the silence must be lifted which is why it's imperative we make the statistics count while they are fresh.

So, to reiterate – 50% of today’s mothers are experiencing workplace discrimination. These aren't mothers from two generations ago, when awareness was low and laws were non-existent. This is happening right now. For fathers the figure sits at 27% (also astounding considering the majority take less than 4 weeks for parental leave).

The survey

The Review included an Australia-wide national consultation process and two national surveys. One survey looks at women's perceived experiences of discrimination in the workplace as a result of their pregnancy, request for or taking of parental leave, and their return to work following parental leave. The second survey looked at experiences of fathers and partners that have taken time off work to care for their child under the 'Dad and Partner Pay' scheme


The most commonly reported discrimination for mothers occurred during:
  • Return to work (35%)
  • Requesting or on parental leave (32%)
  • During pregnancy (27%)
For fathers:
  • During parental leave (20%)
  • Return to work (17%)
The Review found the following forms of discrimination most prevalent:
  • Negative attitudes and comments about breastfeeding or working part-time or flexibly
  • Being denied requests to work flexibly
  • Threatened with or experienced dismissal or redundancy 
  • Reductions in salary
  • Missing out on training and professional development
  • Missed promotional opportunities 
  • Health and safety related discrimination

The impact on parents

The Review found that 84% of mothers experienced a significant negative impact on one or more of the following:
  • Mental health (increased stress, reduced confidence and self-esteem)
  • Physical health
  • Career and job opportunities
  • Financial stability 
  • Families
Specifically 42% of women reported that the discrimination had a financial impact on them and 41% felt it impacted on their career and job opportunities. Many women either left the workforce altogether or changed employer due to the discrimination.
For fathers 61% reported a negative impact on their mental health, 42% reported that it had a negative impact on their families and 37% said that this had a negative financial impact.

The impact on organisations

Sex Discrimination Commissioner, Elizabeth Broderick comments: "The major conclusion we can draw from this data, is that discrimination has a cost – to women, their families, to business and to the Australian economy and society as a whole."

The sad fact is the majority of women who experience discrimination do not make a formal complaint (only 8% made a formal complaint within their organisation) resulting in a third of women looking for another job or resigning.

This doesn’t just impact on families but also employers who lose valuable talent, sometimes without a full understanding of why. If productivity efficiency and employee retention are primary goals it makes good business sense for organisations to get on board early with addressing parent related discrimination.

Though the evidence may point out how far we have to go on this issue Commissioner Broderick also emphasized that during the consultations there were a number of employers already implementing ‘dynamic and leading strategies to overcome the challenges and support employees’.

Whilst it's crucial to recognise the costs and inefficiencies of discrimination it's also important to learn from those organisations doing the right thing.

Lochiel Crafter, Senior Managing Director, State Street Global Advisors comments: "State Street is committed to supporting women and working parents in the workplace; we believe that maintaining a culture of diversity and inclusion is key to helping our employees feel valued and our business succeed. This training demonstrates our commitment to retaining and developing our people by providing parents returning to work with all of the information and support they need to excel in their roles." 

The good news is, now that we have the evidence to support what’s happening in Australian workplaces, employers can create tighter strategies and lead the way with more enlightened practices to help reduce the occurrence and impact of discrimination. What’s more, we can use these findings to hone in on the organisations doing the right thing and hold them up as an example of best practice to help guide and inspire others to do the same.

What can be done? 

Best practice organisations are talking, they are implementing family friendly policies and practices, and they are conscientiously starting to shift the negative cultural influences around the issue.
It’s those proactive organisations we celebrate at Parents@Work (sister organisation to Mums@Work) and we’d love to hear more about those doing their best to reduce discrimination – send us a comment and we’ll share your brilliance here.

In the meantime here are our top tips on how to create a family friendly workplace free from discrimination:
For another 5 tips - get your free e-book ‘10 Tips to Creating a Family Friendly Flexible Workplace’ (click on the red button ‘Subscribe + Free E-book’)

The Review’s findings highlight why Parents@Work do what we do. Balancing a career with starting a family can be one of, if not, the most challenging balancing acts a working parent faces. To make it work parents need the support of their employer and colleagues. Thankfully, there are resources – like the Parents@Work Portal™ – and educational sessions – like the Career After Kids Forum – that can help organisations, managers and parents prepare and navigate the most challenging transitions.

Click on the relevant link for more information on the Parents@Work ProgramParents@Work Portal™ or Career After Kids Forum.

For the initial report visit the Human Rights Commission website.

A final report and recommendations of the National Review will be released by mid 2014.

We hope you'll join us in our endeavour to advocate and push for change to create more family friendly and discrimination free workplaces.

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

How to be an executive director in your thirties

Taking on a senior position as a young woman can be a daunting experience, especially when you are in a male dominated industry. To be successful, young executives need to be confident in their abilities, not worry if they say the wrong thing and learn from mistakes along the way.

Speaking from experience, I wouldn't be the executive director of three companies at age 36 without having jumped in head first and not worrying about my age or gender as a barrier.

Below's what I've learnt about being a young female executive.

Speak up when you know the answer

Often younger women don't have the confidence to speak up in a meeting and voice their opinions. I remember all too well being in my early twenties, sitting in meetings too scared to take a sip of my coffee, let alone contribute to a conversation! So many times I would listen to observations made by the senior executives in the room that matched my own thinking, yet I was too scared to speak up and have a role.

All you need is two ears and one mouth

What holds most women back is confidence. When you're young, you can fall into the trap of feeling like you need to prove yourself all the time. You don't. You've been put into the position you're in because you have talent and experience – people believe you can fulfil the requirements of the position. While you make your thoughts and perspective known, always remember to take on board advice from those around you. A famous quote from the Dalai Lama is: "To only talk and not listen means you'll only ever know what you already know".

When forging a career, it's important to stick to your own path, not take things personally and find someone you trust in your workplace. That someone can help when you're frustrated and need to vent without having to gossip. One of the worst things, male or female, is to get caught up in gossip. It destroys your confidence, ideas and opportunities.

Knowledge grows confidence

It's certainly not easy wearing multiple hats and working in different organisations. However, I enjoy the diversity within each of my roles and recommend all young women review where they can take their knowledge and enthusiasm, and apply it to multiple professional opportunities.

This may sound obvious, but knowledge grows confidence. By building your knowledge, expertise and experience, confidence naturally follows. Don't let a knowledge gap hold you back. Identify what the knowledge gap is and work on it.

Another way to grow your professional career is to enlist the help of a mentor. I have been very privileged to work with some amazing people in my life and I have had several mentors throughout my career. Some have been clients, line managers, CEOs, COOs and suppliers but all have been inspiring and taught me many useful things. I see myself as a sponge and when I see someone I respect; I watch and learn as much as I can while I have the chance to work with them.

As for famous mentors, people I have read and learnt from include Ita Buttrose – a lady in every sense of the word with a determination to succeed that is inspiring – and Sydney Poitier, whose journey before he got into film is incredible and whose calm, considered approach to adversity is admirable.

Having mentors and learning from them really helped me throughout my career. I urge every woman to have a mentor, regardless of their life stage because they can give you that confidence boost to get to the next level.

By: Kellie Northwood 
4 April 2014

Wednesday, April 2, 2014

$535 million/year is how much Australia could pay if we let perinatal depression go untreated

Perinatal depression is a silent killer and is the greatest single cause of maternal death, yet it is rarely spoken of in anything other than hushed tones.

As many as one in seven new mothers in Australia develops depression during the perinatal period, which takes in the five months before a baby is born, and one month after.

On top of the emotional toll, the illness also comes with an economic cost.

A new report obtained by ABC's 7.30 estimates the cost of leaving the perinatal illness untreated at $535 million a year - and that funding is in jeopardy.

Dean Litis knows only too well about the devastating effect of perinatal depression.

His wife Louise struggled with post-natal depression after the birth of their first son, Sam. She got through it, and three years later, they had another boy, Charlie, but the illness soon struck again.

"She was really hard on herself. She thought she should be better," Mr Litis said.

"That [as] a mum she should be able to cope with two children, but she simply couldn't at that stage."

Ms Litis became so ill she was admitted to hospital.

"Charlie was five months old. She was only there for about four days, I think, before she took her own life."

The Litis' experience is shockingly common.

Depression affects one in seven new mothers in Australia

Suicide linked to depression and anxiety takes the lives of more new mothers in Australia than anything else.

Psychologist Shikkiah de Quadros-Wander works at the Tweddle Clinic for mothers and babies in suburban Melbourne, trying to catch new mums and dads before they become seriously ill.

She often wishes that people would come and see her sooner.

"There will be families who come here and they don't have babies, they have toddlers, and they have been experiencing these things for 18 months plus," she said.

"The word failure comes up a lot.

"Crying a lot, crying at anything and withdrawing socially and hiding. There's a lot that's hidden.

"Hiding how they're feeling from people around them who seem to be doing really well or enjoying every minute.

"And then, of course, there are the siblings as well, who are already in that family and feeling like they don't really have the room or the emotional energy to manage."

Federal funding of mental health services in review

The Tweddle Clinic assesses 1,000 parents for perinatal mental illness each year and, crucially, links them to treatment.

That screening service along with many others is in jeopardy.

Until June last year, state and federal governments funded the National Perinatal Depression Initiative.

The $85 million, five-year program helped screen tens of thousands of new mums and dads for depression and anxiety, and fund treatment and education for medical professionals.

However, wrangling between the states and the Commonwealth over a new round of funding has cast doubt over the program.

Now they are waiting for the results of a review into federal funding of mental health services to learn whether the initiative will continue.

"It's a crying shame that the momentum that we had harnessed over five years is slowly dwindling away," said Nicole Highet, the executive director of the Centre of Perinatal Excellence.

"It's slowly dissipating, in some states more than others.

"It potentially means that women won't be screened, so they won't be assessed and identified.

"It can potentially mean that women won't have access to available treatments, and it could mean that the level of death and disability increases as a result."

The Centre of Perinatal Excellence commissioned an analysis from Price Waterhouse Coopers of the economic costs of not identifying and treating maternal mental illness.

It estimates that if all treatment for perinatal depression and anxiety stopped, it would cost Australia $535 million a year in projected health costs for parents and babies and lost productivity.

Maternal depression affects future mental health of children 

Professor Pat McGorry, a former Australian of the year, says his work with mentally ill teenagers would be vastly reduced if maternal depression was better identified and treated earlier.

"Mental health is underfunded across the board so we've got to spend the money wisely, so this is a great preventative opportunity," he said.

"It affects two people, not one. It interferes with the attachment and the future mental health of that child.

"So it's a vital area that we must screen for and invest in proper care around this period."

Stacey Noble knows first-hand how easy it is to slip through the cracks of the maternal health system.

"I saw the maternal and child health care nurse three times; I had a home visit and two centre visit," she said.

"The nurses were very good with the baby, they'd check the baby's weight, how it was feeding and sleeping and those things.

"The focus was very much on the baby and nothing about how I was doing."

After months of crippling depression and anxiety she eventually admitted herself to hospital where medication helped her recover.

For Mr Litis and his boys, even though life has moved on to happier times, there can never be a full recovery from losing their wife and mother, Louise.

"It's still a struggle some days but there's nothing like two young children to keep you going," Dean said.

"They bring me so much happiness and joy. They're just beautiful kids, and I'm sure Lou would be so proud of them.

"She had a really strong sense of family, and I thought she'd be a really great mum. And she was. She just didn't realise that herself."

By Madeleine Morris
2 April 2014
Source: ABC News Online

If you, or anyone you know, feels they are at risk of perinatal depression please visit your GP as soon as possible. The Gidget Foundation is also an excellent source of information and advocate for perinatal anxiety and depression so please visit their website for an extensive list of resources.