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Why more men working part-time is win, win and win

April 23 2018 By Mary Barry, Our Watch CEO

The workplace is a hugely important part of the drive for greater equality between men and women, but the latest figures from the Australian Bureau of Statistics are a stark reminder that there is still a very long way to go.

Man with son Image

In the area of flexible work practices that support all parents to play an active role in raising their children, the ABS tells us that women still make up the overwhelming majority of part-time workers (68.6 per cent of all part-time workers are women).

At Our Watch, the national organisation dedicated to the prevention of violence against women and their children, we know that research has consistently identified gender stereotypes and rigid roles for men and women as a key drivers of family violence against women. This is the reason we advocate so strongly for improving gender equality right across our society, including in our workplaces.

Flexible work practices, such as being able to work part-time without penalty to your career, make a real, constructive difference for both men and women, supporting them in sharing the day-to-day responsibilities of parenting. Workplaces that continue to say only women can work part-time, are sending a strong message that the work of raising families is women’s work, and unpaid at that.

Working part-time gives parents the flexibility to pick young children up from child care or school, it means they can get to at least some of those speeches, sports days and other milestones, it means a sick child is not a family crisis. 

Allowing both men and women to work part-time will also greatly increase women’s opportunities in the work force.

We support recent calls for concrete efforts by workplaces to allow men to work more flexibly and take a greater role in caring for their families. Progress in this area needs real action and we endorse the director of Workplace Gender Equality, Libby Lyons, who this week urged employers to set targets for men working part-time.

Mission statements and good intentions are not enough, workplaces that are serious about achieving change in this area need to model flexible working arrangements for both men and women – from the top down – and they need to have policies that mean part-time work is genuinely available to both men and women.

Greater workplace flexibility for men is a win, win and win. It benefits men who can take up a greater role in caring for their families without disadvantaging their careers. It supports women’s opportunities at work, ensuring that working part-time is no longer seen as the less worthy ‘mummy track’. And it greatly benefits employers who achieve a happier, more productive and more balanced workforce.

Federal Women’s Minister Kelly O’Dwyer is also to be congratulated for raising this issue recently, when she called for change to the old-fashioned assumption that only women need flexibility at work.

Ms O’Dwyer said Australia still had a strong culture of saying only women, not men, need flexibility in their work arrangements. As Ms Lyons highlighted, this culture also devalues the work of raising a family. As a community, we know that work to be vital.

It’s not only women who need flexibility at work to take care of family responsibilities. If, as a society, we agree that raising a family is the responsibility of both parents, and that both men and women should have the opportunity to fulfil their potential at work, then we need real change in the workplace to support this.