Gender equality interventions that give individuals agency can empower women and support men, according to new research conducted across the Victorian Public Service.
Last year the online parental leave platform Grace Papers was engaged by the Victorian Office for Women to run a pilot program across various state government departments.
A recent study looked at the experiences of more than 350 program participants from the Department of Health and Human Services, Victoria Police, and the Department of Education and Training.
The research found 70% of participants gained a better understanding of how to plan their parental leave journey, and 78% of participants felt more confident to have discussions with their managers about their parental leave journey.
However, the findings presented an urgent need for line manager literacy to address the impact of ambition bias — the perceived barriers to career progression — on the careers of those who take parental leave and flexibility.
Overall, VPS employees who had access to the Grace Papers program felt more supported by their employer, more positive about their career trajectory, and more confident about juggling their family commitments, according to Grace Papers CEO Prue Gilbert.
“These findings are important as they are directly related to attitudes towards women and how we value care. But when we empower working parents and equip them with an understanding of how to apply their agency, they feel more confident in managing not just parental leave and flexibility, but can apply that agency to any career issue with confidence,” she said.
Gilbert argued the data showed gender equality interventions can empower employers as much as employees.
“We know that one of the biggest barriers to companies’ succeeding at flexibility and inclusion is the broad lack of data and evidence – so we’re focused on actively measuring and evolving our platform and products in ways that can better support workplaces to drive gender equality effectively. And that includes ensuring decision makers can make data driven decisions,” she said.
Macquarie University’s lead researcher Raymond Trau said confidence was “by far” the biggest increase among any of the measures tracked in the study.
“What we’re seeing is that pre-program, employees were only moderately confident in areas such as approaching their manager for support and planning their parental leave journey whereas post-program, there’s a substantial increase in confidence,” he said.
The latest findings were launched by minister for women Gabrielle Williams at a virtual Keep in Touch event for program participants on Tuesday.
She noted the coronavirus pandemic has posed or exacerbated a number of challenges for women. For example, women have experienced greater job losses than men, and there has been a spike in victims of family violence seeking help.
However, the pandemic has also had some positive outcomes. For example, flexible work has been tested across various industries, including government, and men have been able to experience a greater share of parenting responsibilities.
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The pandemic has also presented the state government with an opportunity to address some of these pressing inequality issues, Williams noted.
“So there’s some glimmers of hope that we want to make sure we’re investigating and perpetuating beyond this particular time,” she said.
Williams said the state government has been supporting gender equality interventions to help “build a fairer Victoria that values the paid and unpaid contributions of working parents”.
“Grace Papers’ program proves that when we support employers to value care and entrench flexibility, we can create a culture where careers and families thrive,” she said.
Macquarie University is set to undertake further independent research on the matter.