Right now, in Aotearoa New Zealand, there are 5,000 more women than men looking for paid employment. Covid-19 disproportionately impacted on women with up two thirds of all job losses in the last 6 months of 2020. But it was a double whammy for women as study after study is proving that they also picked up even more of the unpaid work at home, even though they were already doing the lion’s share pre-Covid. Kind of depressing, but I was cheered up to read this week that the Ministry of Women is putting together a “Women’s Employment Action Plan” to help address this situation. As a Working Parent Advocate, if I were writing this action plan, here is what I would feature in terms of building an environment that supports women being in paid work.
- Flexible, affordable, quality, and convenient childcare. If this is all that changed, it would make a massive difference to parents and families. Childcare needs to be flexible to facilitate the inconsistency in hours that come with flexible working. If you must commit to 40 plus hours (only during the weekdays) to secure a place at a day-care, it does not work. While we are talking about things that do not work, being at day-care and your child having a cold or a tummy bug, really doesn’t work either. It is another pain point for working parents as to how they can cobble together their workday while looking after their sick child. It is tough. Childcare provisions also need to consider school holidays, the bane of every working parent’s life. The number one barrier holding parents back from going back to paid work is the thought of how they would get through the 12 weeks of school holidays every year. We need to think differently about subsidies for childcare as it is not just a problem when your children are under 5.
- Policy for part time, job share and term time employment contracts. Finding a part time or a job share role advertised is a rare thing indeed. People exclaim that you are very “lucky” when you get one. It needs to not be lucky; it needs to be a way of attracting experienced valuable talent. I know a few corporates are offering Term Time contracts but not enough. Until we get both men and women working in these types of roles that allow us to continue the important unpaid work we have in our lives, we will never change the glacial pace of women into senior leadership roles. Culturally, we need to see that when a man takes up a job share or a part time role, that it does not off ramp his career and in fact enables him to continue progressing. The system needs to change, not the people.
- Sharing the load at home. When I was growing up, there was a campaign called “Girls Can Do Anything” that sold us this story that you can do anything for a job. You can dream big. Turns out, we can do anything, but we can’t do everything. For women parenting alone, it can be tough and that is where building a village around you can make the difference. When it comes to women in dual career households, they are doing the bulk of the unpaid work at home as well as carrying the mental load that comes with the daily operations of a family. This is often not sustainable and can lead to a woman off ramping themselves from their corporate job into a more junior role or out of the workforce altogether. I am not sure that policy can help us here but talking about it with your partner can. If you notice that you are the one in the morning running around packing two day-care bags, feeding the kids breakfast, resolving outfit of the day tantrums, assembling a Matariki morning tea plate and your partner is on his phone, eating his toast, then maybe you need to lean into that tricky conversation. A simple “can we talk about how the mornings work?” is all it takes to start a conversation. Full stop. Silence.
I am looking forward to the seeing the Ministry’s strategy later this year and I hope that it cuts straight to the heart of a system that is preventing large numbers of experienced, motivated and talented people from contributing to the future of this beautiful country Aotearoa New Zealand.