Primary care-giving and leadership in the public sector — 'the balance has shifted'

By Clare McCartin

May 7, 2018

Changing the conversation: from gender equality in the workplace to gender equality in primary care and how this will increase the number of women in leadership in the public sector.

We can talk all we want about gender equality in the workplace, but until there is a shift in the way we think about work and caregiving and how those two can work together, we are long way from achieving a happy balance for anyone.

Clare McCartin

From speaking with people who are passionate about the topic of achieving gender equality at work, it is clear that to achieve this we need to extend the conversation to include gender equality in primary caregiving for the family.

While women continue to feel they should be responsible for the primary care of their children, it restricts their career choices and also restricts opportunities for men to be the primary caregiver.

Employee storytelling can debunk gender stereotypes

Ben Rimmer, Chief Executive Officer with the City of Melbourne and a member of the Male Champions of Change which is designed to promote gender equality, is keen for childcare to be “normalised for all genders” to open up career paths for women and enable men to become the primary caregiver.

Rimmer acknowledges that the path to gender equality can be difficult without the right leadership and support structures in place. He concedes that if he could go back in time to an earlier point in his career he’d tell himself to listen to his own advice around balance and care-giving.

“I believe we need to re-frame caring responsibilities so all parents are encouraged and supported to spend time with young children normalising caring responsibilities for all genders,” he said. “This includes introducing gender neutral parental paid leave.”

Ben Rimmer

Rimmer said the need for equality in the workplace is a “no brainer” and a “human rights issue”, and while many men were supportive of the push for gender equality, there were some who would cling to old belief systems.

“I think some people can’t imagine a society that is equal where men are expected to be care-givers and women are truly supported to work. A world where expectations are re-balanced and society is stronger for it,” he mused.

“Change takes time. Some people still hold traditional views of care-giving but the balance has certainly shifted so that there is now a sea of voices that embrace gender equality. Talking to people and storytelling about what is possible often helps people to alter their perspectives.

“I’ve found that by continually sharing employee stories and providing opportunities for men (and women) to be exposed to real life examples that debunk gender stereotypes does help to alter people’s perspectives. Changing perspectives is not enough though – changing the rules is crucial. This is exactly why we have introduced gender neutral parental leave, and importantly 20 weeks paid leave for the secondary carer”.

We’re all juggling something

For the newly appointed NSW Public Sector Commissioner, Emma Hogan (pictured top), the question of whether a women is able to “have it all” – a career, motherhood and a social life as well – is about to be answered in the most personal of ways.

“I am about to find out if women can have it all as I take on this huge opportunity with a 10-month-old baby girl and an 11-year-old step-daughter,” she laughed. “You may want to ask me this question in six months’ time!

“But in truth, I’m not sure the question is just can women have it all anymore; it’s can anyone?

“Statistics definitely say that women are still doing most of the primary care (Census 2016) but I’ve also seen more and more men wanting flexibility too. Roles are changing, the whole nature of work and ‘balance’ expectations are changing, and I think nearly everyone is juggling ‘something’.

“Diversity isn’t just about the men versus women debate. It’s so much broader than that, and we can only achieve true diversity when we embrace true inclusion at work.”

True inclusion means understanding that what people want changes according to the individual and their circumstances at any given time. Flexible work hours are a very good step in the right direction towards an inclusive workplace.

“That old adage of ‘you can have it all but you can’t have it all at once’ still rings true I think, and so people are deciding what’s best for their life and what is possible in their job,” Hogan said. “The more flexible and supportive working environments we can provide for all options, the better I think we will become.

“In any workplace, employees look to their leaders to show what is possible, and flexible working is no different.  At my interview I was encouraged to take up the flexible work options available and it was appealing to me that it was not viewed as a career penalty for wanting flexible work options, but it also sends a powerful message that I support all employees to have the conversation with their manager.”

How far we’ve come on gender equality

For Emma, part of her new role will be reviewing the work done to date on the Premier’s Driving Public Sector Diversity initiative which has set what she describes as “tough but realistic targets” to improve workplace diversity.

“One of my first priorities will be to understand the work that the public sector has underway towards women being in 50% of senior leadership roles by 2025,” she explained.

“When we get to this and sustain it, then I genuinely hope the discussion about gender equality is less a current one and more something to reflect on how far we have come.”

As for her own career, Emma who has worked as the Executive Director, Customer Experience and People & Culture with Foxtel, was a senior manager at Qantas and Corporate Manager of Recruitment Strategy with Woolworths, said success was the result of people backing her – including herself.

“Taking on this new role of being the NSW Public Service Commissioner, it’s a big job,” she said reflectively. “And it’s exciting, but I don’t have a public service background. A few years ago that would have terrified me.  Now, I just acknowledge that I need to put the mechanisms in place to learn as much as I can as quickly as I can to get up to speed on what I don’t know.

“And I will let the evidence of where I have been successful, and bringing what I do know to the role, be the basis on which I approach my success.”

Understanding that women are often inspired by seeing other successful women, Davidson with partner IPAA Victoria last year launched the Top 50 Public Sector Women (Victoria) List to recognise and honour women working in the state’s Public Sector who were in senior level positions.

The initiative proved so successful at raising the profile of senior women in the Victorian Public Sector that we have joined with IPAA NSW to launch the inaugural Top 50 Public Sector Women (NSW) List.

To nominate someone – or yourself – for this year’s Victorian or NSW Top 50 Public Sector Women lists, visit our website.

Clare McCartin, Group General Manager, Executive & Boards at Davidson.

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