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Successful and Happy Working Career Mums – Can it be done?

According to a recent article by Lucille Keen, a reporter for AFR Weekend, one in five working mums lost their job before or after having a baby and more than a quarter of fathers are discriminated against for taking parental leave. A report has found half of Australia’s working mothers report discrimination during pregnancy, parental leave or when returning to work, according to an Australian Human Rights Commission report.


 The commission’s report, Supporting Working Parents: Pregnancy and Return to Work National Review, found 18% of pregnant workers say they have been sacked, threatened with sacking or didn’t have their contract renewed, either during their pregnancy, when requesting or taking parental leave, or when they returned to work.

 Sex Discrimination commissioner Elizabeth Broderick said women had their salaries cut and missed out on training, professional development and promotional opportunities.

 “The most common types of discrimination . . . included negative comments about breastfeeding or working part-time or flexibly and being denied requests to work flexibly,” Ms Broderick said on Monday.

 The vast majority of mothers who copped discrimination (84%) said it had a negative impact on them. The report also found fathers were discriminated against, with more than one quarter (27%) of the father and partner respondents saying this occurred during parental leave or when they returned to work.

 Discrimination was most commonly reported upon the mother returning to work, followed by when requesting or on parental leave. However, a quarter of those discriminated against said it happened during their pregnancy.

 Business Council of Australia Chief Executive Jennifer Westacott said employers should have active strategies in place to encourage inclusive, gender-diverse workplaces.

 “Not only because it’s the right thing to do, but because it makes good business sense to maximise the talent pool,” Ms Westacott said.

 “Workplace discrimination of any kind, whether by employers or co-workers, is unacceptable and the results of this survey are certainly ­concerning. This is why we have developed best-practice guidelines for employers to ensure they have proactive policies around gender diversity, including building a culture which is supportive of women who are pregnant or who are returning to work following childbirth.”

 Australian Industry Group chief executive Innes Willox said the issues of pregnancy, parental leave and return to work were important to employers.

 “Employers have a strong interest in retaining valued staff and in increasing participation in the workforce,” he said.

 “The detailed results will need to be analysed to try to understand the proportion of employees who have been discriminated against applying a legally recognised definition of ‘discrimination’; the proportion of employees who ‘felt’ discriminated against, even though this would not constitute discrimination under the law (this is still important); the steps that should be taken to educate employers and employees about their rights and responsibilities; as well as best-practice approaches.”

 Victorian Legal Aid has called for a strengthening of laws to protect women’s rights at work.

 Spokeswoman Melanie Schleiger said the current laws weren’t working, with only 154 women making complaints about pregnancy discrimination to the commission in the last financial year.

 “Pregnant women are often reluctant to take on the stress and uncertainty of legal action when they are busy dealing with so many other things as they prepare for the birth of their child,” she said.

 “Other reasons why women may be hesitant to come forward and make a complaint include concern about the impact on their professional reputation and a lack of awareness of their legal rights and options.”

 The commission’s report also found one quarter of fathers experienced discrimination when requesting or during parental leave and on return to work.

Half of those reported discrimination on pay, conditions and duties. “The data reflects what I have heard about negative attitudes towards men taking parental leave or working flexibly to care for their children,” Ms Broderick said.

 And, even if you do have a great, flexible and understanding employer, you then have to work out the best child care options, especially if you don’t have family support.

 I am lucky that I am on the other end of a 22-year journey as a working mum as both of my two kids have ‘flown the coop’. I watch my young mum colleagues battling with the same things I went through over 20 years ago.  When should I have kids?  When should I go back to work?  Childcare – who/how can I get the proper care and how much of my kids’ lives do I want to miss out on?

 The one thing new mums have on their side is technology.  So much of the work can now be done from home.  Whilst I had my own business and worked from home when my youngest was four years old, it still wasn’t easy.  I had six months of unpaid maternity leave with my first child and three weeks only with my second child. There is no magic answer, and everyone is different with different circumstances.  My words of wisdom would be,  “Don’t miss out too much whilst the kids are young, as before you know it, they are grown up and out on their own.  I can’t believe how quickly those 22 years have gone.”

 Most of all enjoy your work, your family and partner and make sure you make time for yourself.  I look forward to any comments or feedback on this tough issue.  The decisions we make at this time in our lives are life-changing for everyone in our family. Have you survived?  Do you have a great story to share, any tips for new mums?

 Signing off – Sandy Hall – Managing Director of Hall of Fame Marketing Bendigo


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