Paid parental leave, what’s all the fuss about?

Paid parental leave, what’s all the fuss about?
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Jen Dobbie of SheSays Sydney discusses the furore surrounding the proposed parental pay scheme and what it might mean for Australian creatives.

I’m sure you noticed the noise surrounding the proposed parental pay scheme put forward by the Coalition and the Greens last week. It enjoyed plenty of media attention.

I’m no Leigh Sales, so I'm not going to talk about the politics, but want to take a minute to look at how a paid parental scheme impacts us all in the creative industry. I’m focusing on the woman’s point of view – but only to avoid the awful phrase ‘primary caregiver’. This is certainly an issue affecting both men and women, and I’d love to hear perspectives of the fathers out there.

The whole ‘parental pay’ discussion makes me feel we could be taking a backward step.

By viewing this as a separate payment, not as a workplace entitlement akin to holidayor sick leave, are politicians rightly championing the importance of a special time; or does it set mothers up against women who chose not to have children? When mothers re-enter the workforce, will they be unable to commit to the hours and pace that we need to sustain a career in media?

For me, this is about a lot more than a paid period of leave. Having a baby is a life changing experience. It labels you as someone with primary responsibility for a child. And that’s a label that some people find hard to accept.

Who’s to blame an employer – it’s much easier to arrange workloads in busy marketing environments and agree to timelines if you can be confident that your staff member won’t be called off to pick up a sick child. Parents’ requests for part time or flexible hours can raise real questions of reliability and efficiency.

But perhaps it's time to acknowledge that being a parent isn't something that makes us any less focused on our jobs. It certainly doesn't make us less efficient – it’s often the reverse, as we become certified time management legends.

Having been both client and agency sides, it seems clear that having an employee comfortable with such a high level of responsibility should be of benefit to any business.

Yes, it’s possible we will occasionally work from home with a sick child. Yes, we may lick a tissue and remove a mark from your face before a meeting. That doesn't mean we’re less capable, intelligent or focused, than we were before.

I believe that having a parent as part of your creative team should be viewed positively – as should anyone who similarly takes a break for personal or career development.

We've gained confidence and perspective by adding to our capabilities as a businesswoman the ability to grow a human, give birth and sustain a life.

We are better equipped to deal with grumpy clients and demanding timelines, because we’ve had a change in perspective, brought on by competently dealing with a toddler with an ear infection, waking up screaming at 3am. 

We are more aware than ever of the importance of teamwork, and more likely to be of support to our colleagues. We are likely to be more inspired. Why? Because now we know we can handle whatever our job throws at us. And that can only be a good thing.

In an era where it is possible to arrange extended periods of leave for our chosen personal or career goals, I can’t believe we are still having this debate about parental entitlements. The political agenda is testament to how far we still need to go in terms of changing our attitudes to parents in the workplace. 

That is why I am part of SheSays, a global network of women who are passionate about working in the creative industries. Brought together by our shared interest, we hold meetings, debates and networking sessions where we discuss, are educated on, and evolve our understanding of the issues affecting women today.

Jen Dobbie is head of copy at SheSays Sydney, columnist for motherpedia.com.au and a freelance copywriter.

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