For Mr Walsh and partner Heather Burrows, not missing any of Finn’s milestones has been a silver lining while stuck at home because of COVID-19.
The couple from NSW’s Central Coast both work for ING, which became the first Australian bank to introduce an equal parental leave policy, and Mr Walsh has been using some of his 14 weeks’ parental leave to help care for his son during the pandemic.
“It’s worked out really well over the last couple of weeks because Heather had her wisdom teeth out and next week she’s getting her tonsils removed, so it’s been great while she’s unable to do normal day-to-day duties,” Mr Walsh said.
“Finn is in daycare three days a week, so any sign of coughing, nose running, he gets sent home. So if they do call, I can go and pick him up, so it’s been good that one of us is not having to miss out on work.”
Although a quarter of parents feel the pandemic has made bosses more understanding about parental responsibilities, more than half say the greatest challenge for partners has been juggling work and family, according to new research from ING.
Two in three new parents said they wanted their partner on parental leave to share responsibility during COVID-19, with new parents reporting limited contact with family and friends, isolation and a lack of down time as the biggest challenges.
A third felt equal parental leave was more important now than pre-coronavirus, according to the survey of 400 people on parental leave during COVID-19.
If we look at past recessions, I think there is a very real concern the gender pay gap will go up.
— Libby Lyons, director of the Workplace Gender Equality Agency
ING head of retail banking Melanie Evans said the COVID-19 pandemic had magnified the need for parental leave equality.
“During COVID, social contact has been very limited, our ability to move and leave the house has been limited, we’ve had more Australians than ever blur the lines between the office and home, so what we’ve seen is even more demand for the concept of sharing the care,” she said.
“I think the silver lining of the pandemic is that it’s helped raise the profile of working family life in Australia and has certainly made parenting more visible, more obvious and the challenges associated with parenting,” she added.
The number of fathers at ING taking paid parental leave has increased by 40 per cent, and there has been a fourfold increase in the number of dads taking more than two weeks since the bank introduced its equal parental leave policy a year ago.
ING’s parental leave can be taken flexibly at any point during the first two years of a child’s life.
“One of the wonderful outcomes making this change is that you remove the stigma associated with taking parental leave,” Ms Evans said.
“When we did our research on this topic, it was very clear that parents see themselves as equal in the home, but workplace policy and the approach to parental leave is not one that screams gender equality in reality.”
Libby Lyons, director of the Workplace Gender Equality Agency, said equal access to paid parental leave was a key step towards closing the gender pay gap.
“It’s too early to tell, but if we look at past recessions I think there is a very real concern the gender pay gap will go up. During the GFC, the gender pay gap rose two percentage points in two years, and it took us 10 years to claw that back,” she said.
Australia’s full-time gender pay gap is currently 14 per cent, with women earning on average $253.60 a week less than men, according to WEGA’s latest data.
“The reason we have a gender pay gap is that women are discriminated against when it comes to hiring, promotions and pay decisions,” Ms Lyons said.
Ms Lyons said employers that were serious about closing the gender pay gap needed to do a gender pay analysis within their organisation.
“Find out where the problem areas and target them with an action plan,” she said.