Achieving a family supportive workplace and community


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Content type
Family Matters article

April 1994


This article examines the priority issue 'To promote policies which recognise and support the choices which families are making in combining work and family care' identified by the National Council for the International Year of the Family. The author looks at how family responsibilities can affect business productivity and competitiveness; the options necessary to enable workers with family responsibilities to reconcile occupational and family life; legislative / government, union and employer responses to assisting workers with family responsibilities; changes in workplace structure and culture; and creating a climate conducive to encouraging fathers and mothers to share child rearing responsibilities more equally.

The way families organise their working and family lives is one of most important issues to consider in this Year of the Family. While at one level, how families make these arrangements is a private matter, these decisions are influenced by and, in turn, affect many public spheres of life - health care, education, transport, leisure, social security provision and the law.

Present and future trends in family and work life depend on how we as a society make decisions about the way individuals - as employees, family members, carers of the young, elderly and ill and contributors to community activities - will participate in these dimensions of life as a whole.

In families of the not-so-long-ago 1960s, wives and children were thought to remain on the domestic doorstep while the breadwinner went to his workplace. While this scenario never applied to all, it was the way for the majority of families, particularly those with young children.

In 1961 women comprised only 25 per cent of the labour force; the participation rate of married women aged 25-34, the child bearing years, was 17 per cent. The pattern is very different in the 1990s. In 1991, women comprised 42 per cent of the labour force; married women's participation rate for the age category 25-34 had leaped to 61 per cent (AIFS 1993).

The pivotal demographic and social changes that contribute to these new work and family configurations and structures have been well documented: later marriage, lower fertility rates, higher education levels, increased divorce rates, a changing economy, raised material aspirations and expanded definitions of gender roles (McDonald 1993).In 1993 the percentage of couples with dependent children where both parents were in the labour force was 59 per cent. Within one-parent families, 43 per cent of sole mothers and 65 per cent of sole fathers were employed (AIFS 1993).

Responding to the needs of workers with family responsibilities will require the concerted efforts of government, community, employers and unions. Within a dynamic of partnership, all share a responsibility to develop solutions that will enable men and women to balance their work and family in ways that minimise conflict and stress.

Balancing Work and Family Life

When workers with family responsibilities are surveyed, men and women agree that work interferes with their energy to be a good parent, the time spent with children, their relationship with their partner, leisure activities and energy to work around the house (Edgar and Glezer 1992). The ageing of Australia's population means that increasing numbers of working men and women also care for elderly relatives.

According to the Australian Bureau of Statistics Survey of Families (ABS 1993b), 29 per cent of employed parents with children aged 0-11 had difficulty managing work and caring for children. Around 27 per cent of employed carers of long-term ill, elderly or disabled family members had difficulty coping with both roles. A higher proportion of employed women than men experienced difficulty balancing work with child care and caring for a long-term ill, disabled or elderly family member (35 per cent and 21 per cent respectively).

The AIFS study of dependent care (VandenHeuvel 1993) found that more than two-thirds of parents missed some work during the year related to children's needs, either due to sickness or child care, particularly during school holidays. Almost one-third of men and women had taken time off from work to care for other family members, usually a spouse (17 per cent) or parents (14 per cent). When a child was sick, mothers were more likely than fathers to take time off to care for a sick child (52 per cent and 31 per cent respectively), but both parents shared other child care and parental care equally.

Impact on Work

Managing work and family life affects not only family functioning but also workplace performance. Studies of employees and employers reveal that family responsibilities can affect business productivity and competitiveness (Adie and Carmody 1991; Wolcott 1991). Concerns about child care, sick children, elderly parents, marital and family problems can increase absenteeism, coming to work late or leaving early, concentration and safety on the job. Days at work may be missed not only for family caring but for attending to domestic tasks. Repair services, for example, often require someone to wait at home for the better part of a working day.

Family responsibilities can influence a worker's willingness to take on additional tasks, training, travel or relocate (Russell, Savage and Durkin 1992; Wolcott 1993). Other employees' efficiency can be affected, especially in teamwork situations, when colleagues and workmates are absent or preoccupied with family concerns.

Skilled employees may not be retained because inadequate child care or flexible hours are not available after maternity leave. Costs of recruitment, training and 'down time' before new employees are up to par can increase in these circumstances. An analysis of cost-benefits in British companies (Business in the Community/Institute of Personnel Management 1993), estimated that replacement costs for a junior management position was half of their annual salary. The calculation included recruitment, training, temporary cover and limited functioning period costs to the company.

Meeting the Needs of Workers With Family Responsibilities

There appears to be consensus on the options necessary to enable workers with family responsibilities to reconcile, or as the Scandinavians say, harmonise, occupational and family life (Holt 1993; Friedman and Brothers 1993).

Time - to meet family demands and to be together as a family - presents a major dilemma for workers with family responsibilities. As the ILO (1980) states: 'Whatever form it takes, a reduction in hours of work is one of the best ways of lightening the work load of people with family responsibilities.' Describing Danish families who are juggling work and family, Jorgensen (1993) observes that families with children live 'on the margin' in respect of time resources, constantly negotiating and adjusting to meet the demands that arise in both domains.

Levels of stress associated with conflicts between work and family roles are associated with working long, irregular and inflexible hours, low job status and satisfaction, unsympathetic supervisors and high job vulnerability (Galinsky, Friedman and Hernandez 1991; Edgar and Glezer 1992).

When parents are asked what workplace benefits are most desired, the most common responses are flexible hours and leave options that are job-protected to meet routine and unexpected demands of family life. These can be practical services such as assistance with child care and elder care and access to a telephone at the workplace. They include flexible working time arrangements and conditions of work such as parental leave, leave to care for sick family members, part-time work, reduced hours, flexitime to run household errands, to take care of household repairs, to do shopping and cooking, to attend school events and to pick up and deliver children to child care. A sense of trust between supervisor and employee is also highly valued.

For many families adequate child care arrangements are a top priority, including before and after school hours care, school holidays and vacation time care and sick child care. For others, elder care provisions are most important.

A corporate culture that does not penalise workers because they have family responsibilities is another essential component of a responsive workplace. Such an environment would strengthen the capacity to achieve a further requirement considered imperative, one which is embodied in Australian sex discrimination and affirmative action legislation and international conventions: that is, more equal sharing of family responsibilities between men and women.

A desire for flexibility in work schedules does not obviate the need to earn an adequate income for the work performed. Maintaining an adequate living standard is the principal condition for meeting the needs of workers with family responsibilities. For many workers, part-time work and reduced hours may not be a viable option if they are attached to only low paid and low status jobs.

Some progress has been made in both the public and private spheres, in government and workplace policies and programs, to assist men and women combine their work and family lives.

Legislative/Government Response

Compliance with legislation can be an important incentive for introducing employment practices that assist workers with family commitments. The Sex Discrimination Act, 1984, prohibited discrimination on the grounds of sex, marital status or pregnancy in employment and education. In 1992 it was amended to prohibit dismissal of employees on the grounds of family responsibilities. Consideration is currently being given to extending the Act to prevent discrimination on the basis of parental responsibilities in general (House of Representatives Standing Committee on Legal and Constitutional Affairs 1992).

The Affirmative Action (Equal Employment Opportunity for Women) Act 1986 required all private sector employers with 100 or more employees to develop and implement an affirmative action program to identify and eliminate barriers to women's equal participation in the workforce. Areas affected by affirmative action can include aspects of work organisation such as recruitment, selection, training and conditions of employment such as leave and scheduling of work hours.

Commonwealth compliance conditions require employers to comply with the Affirmative Action Act if they are to be eligible for consideration for government contracts for goods and services and specified industrial assistance (Statement by the Prime Minister, Hon. P.J. Keating, 19.9.92). Victoria has also introduced these conditions.

The initial focus of legislation as a means to promote policies to assist families balance work and family responsibilities addressed specific discrimination against women. During the past few years, there has been a noticeable shift away from viewing the interconnections between work and family roles as related solely to women. Recent legislation clearly acknowledges that both men and women have family responsibilities.

In 1990, Australia ratified ILO Convention 156, Workers With Family Responsibilities, which requires signatories to make it the aim of national policy to enable people with family responsibilities to engage in employment to the extent possible, without conflict between their employment and family responsibilities. The Convention states that measures compatible with national conditions and possibilities should take account of the needs of men and women workers in community planning, in the development or promotion of public and private community services such as child care and family services and facilities.

Further support for the concept that fathers as well as mothers have child care responsibilities, was given when the Industrial Relations Commission in 1990 ruled that 51 weeks of unpaid parental leave after the birth of a child could be taken by either parent. The decision incorporated the opportunity, with employer agreement, to return to permanent part-time work up to a child's second birthday.

Availability, costs and quality of child care services are important concerns for families. The number of Federally funded child care places increased to 200,000 in 1992. The Federal Government provides child care assistance to families for work related child care services. Employers have been encouraged to provide child care through a variety of tax concession options to companies or employees.

Ratification of the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of the Child in 1990 strengthens the concept of parental sharing of work and family responsibilities through the provision of child care. Article 18-3 counsels: 'States Parties shall take all appropriate measures to ensure that children of working parents have the right to benefit from child care services and facilities for which they are eligible'.

The quality of child care, often relegated a back seat to costs, is receiving more attention. Regulations have generally focused on building and safety aspects or the ratio of children to staff, not on the programs or educational policies of child care centres. A National Accreditation Council has been set up by the Government to set standards incorporating these broader dimensions. Eligibility for fee relief will be tied to a child attending an accredited centre.

The guidelines have generated controversy over potential increases in costs for centres to meet the standards and over definitions of what constitutes 'quality improvement' and 'stimulating and positive experiences'. It is disheartening that the guideline's encouragement of non-sexist activities has attracted negative comment.

In 1991, the Australian Industrial Relations Commission endorsed enterprise bargaining principles as the means of establishing wage rates and working conditions within some award condition safeguards. Enterprise bargaining may result in improved conditions for workers. Nevertheless the move towards decision making at the workplace or enterprise, rather than a national level has raised concerns that conditions beneficial to workers with family responsibilities may not be advocated or protected in such agreements.

Union Response

The ACTU at its 1991 Congress endorsed a 'Workers With Family Responsibilities Strategy'. The Strategy strengthens the recognition that work and family issues affect both men and women workers and calls on union agendas in enterprise negotiations to include these concerns. The ACTU through test cases in the Australian Industrial Relations Commission has successfully negotiated maternity leave, equal pay and most recently parental leave cases for workers covered under relevant awards. A test case for five days of special family leave for absences relating to health or school requirements has been lodged with the Commission (Matthews 1993).

Employer Responses 

A family supportive workplace is one where policies and practices enable workers with family responsibilities to achieve a reasonable balance between the demands of both spheres. Increasing numbers of Australian companies, particularly leading edge corporations, have begun to offer a range of working time arrangements, leave policies and child care options that assist families (Affirmative Action Agency 1993; Adie and Carmody 1991).

Flexible working arrangements include: part-time work, job sharing, flexitime (varying arrival and departure times), nine-day fortnights, 12 hour shifts, averaging hours and earning of credit hours and unpaid time off. Some employers allow employees to negotiate school year contracts and reduced work weeks with commensurate salary reductions.

Working from home (telecommuting or flexiplace) can take a number of forms. An employee may work at home all the time or part of the time or only for short periods of time such as a few months after maternity leave or to meet short-term child care and elder care problems. Telecommuting on a long-term arrangement may include periods of time at the workplace to attend meetings, for training and to coordinate work.

Leave to care for sick family members or to attend to other family emergencies may be a specified number of days or packaged to incorporate all leave entitlements - illness, compassionate and vacation - that can be used for family or personal reasons.

Child care options include: on or near site facilities established by an individual company or shared by a group of companies, reserving spaces in community or private child care centres, organising holiday programs during school vacations and funding training and equipment for home based child carers. Subsidy of child care incorporated as part of a salary package or fringe benefit is an option offered by very few companies and usually only to high level staff.

Some companies provide employee assistance programs to provide subsidised and confidential assistance to employees experiencing family, personal or work stress that interferes with their performance at work. Fitness, safety and nutrition programs have been introduced for all family members in several companies to reduce accidents and absenteeism by improving general health and reducing injuries at home and at the work site (Gamble 1991).

Other companies are organising lunchtime seminars on work and family issues. Topics cover managing dual careers, parenting education, stress management, evaluating child care and elder care options, and financial counselling.

Many leading edge companies have written policies that outline to managers, supervisors and workers the range of work arrangements and benefits that might assist families along with employer and employee rights and responsibilities. Such policies, to be useful, must be advertised and promoted within the enterprise in easily accessible form and language. Several companies have prepared attractive handbooks, pamphlets and even videos that summarise family or personal leave provisions and working time schedules available to employees.

Written policies are necessary to describe basic benefits and work organisation possibilities to which all can refer. However, a family supportive workplace could be one in which a mixture of both formal benefits (sick leave to care for family members, parental leave, alternative working hours) are enshrined in enterprise agreements and legislation and informal arrangements also operate. The latter may include: swapping hours or days with colleagues at short notice, being able to take a short period of time off to do errands during the day, coming in an hour later or leaving an hour earlier and making up time when feasible and taking work home.

Informal policies are often described in terms of reciprocity between employers and employees or in the words of one employer, 'it is a matter of give and take' (Wolcott 1993) while employees mention, 'a sense of trust between supervisor and worker' (Ministry of Women's Affairs 1993). Employers, however, appear to perceive granting of discretionary time off for family needs as reward for good work, a privilege not a right. Nevertheless, surveys of workers with family responsibilities report that many employees feel their employers are fairly sympathetic towards their family needs, especially if it is a crisis situation, and most workers would find a way to make up for any time taken from work.

A family-friendly workplace would see family concerns as legitimate reasons for reorganising work shifts and holidays where feasible. Family members would be visible, in conversations, pictures, occasional visits and telephone calls.

Future Challenges

The legislative and employer initiatives described above represent some progress towards enabling family members to balance work and family roles. Nevertheless it is still women who tend to compromise career commitments in favour of family life.

Family commitments clearly influence women's decisions about whether to work and their preference for full-time or part-time work hours. Women's willingness to organise their working life around family responsibilities enables men to pursue intensive work involvement.

While 95 per cent of fathers with children aged less than 14 were in the labour force, only 47 per cent of mothers in couple families with children aged 0-4 and 73 per cent with children 10-14 were in the labour force. For sole mothers the figures are 33 per cent and 60 per cent respectively. More telling is that in 1993, women accounted for three- quarters of all those in part-time employment. Only 35 per cent of employed mothers in couple families with children under the age of five and 48 per cent with children aged between 10-14 worked full-time. For sole mothers the figures are 38 per cent and 61 per cent respectively. On the other hand, 96 per cent of fathers in couple families with children under 14 were employed full- time as were 89 per cent of sole fathers.

According to the Australian Bureau of Statistics, 79 per cent of men in the prime working (and child rearing) ages of 25-54 years who were working part-time preferred to work more hours compared with 20 per cent of married women of the same age who were working part-time (ABS 1993a). Surveys of people not in the labour force (ABS 1992) indicate that 41 per cent of women who were not actively looking for work cited family reasons. Only 3 per cent of men cited family reasons.

A study of flexible work arrangements in the United States confirmed that men who worked flexible hours usually worked compressed work weeks rather than part-time and did so for other than family reasons (Catalyst 1993).

Even in Sweden where government policy and the availability of benefits encourage fathers to take parental leave, few men are in part- time work. However, 85 per cent of fathers use the ten 'new daddy days' at the time of birth and take an average of 53 days of parental leave. Fathers are responsible for one-third of leave to care for sick children (Bernhardt 1992).

Women's preferences for part-time work can be partly interpreted in relation to the social and structural impediments that exist as barriers to more equal participation in the workplace for women and in home duties by men. Women take part-time work in order not to disrupt their domestic and caring roles. As long as work practices are based on the assumption that workers have minimum family responsibilities or that part-time or casual low paid work will suffice for those who want to combine work and family life, there will be little real advancement in enabling both men and women to take full advantage of reconciling the conflicts inherent in meeting the demands of both roles.

Studies of employer attitudes to work and family in large and small businesses (Wolcott 1991; 1993) confirm that many employers still see family concerns as a problem for women and the solution to be part-time work for mothers.

At present, part-time work, whether preferred or not, generally equates with lower pay and lower status employment. So long as women's working patterns create inequalities in time and money distribution between couples and men and women make decisions based on these circumstances, increased sharing of work and family roles will be constrained.

New Ways to Work

Changes in Workplace Structure and Culture

One of the main obstacles to employer-initiated family policies is the conservative attitude of senior management who do not identify with the problems faced by workers with family demands and who have to be convinced that new ways to work will enhance performance and productivity. Surveys of chief executive officers usually reveal that most senior managers are men who had a spouse at home during the years they were building their careers (Allen 1993).

Unless senior management supports alternative working arrangements for both men and women at all levels of the organisation, employees will rightly perceive that taking advantage of such options could be detrimental to their career. Management must 'walk the talk', to model and promote desired behaviour. Meetings would not be held early in the morning or late in the evening when they are most likely to conflict with child care arrangements. Company communications (brochures, newsletters, videos) and performance awards and reward would reflect policies reinforcing diversity in work arrangements.

Assumptions about what it means to be committed to work would have to be altered. Dedication to the employment role would no longer only be measured by a pattern of working at least 40 hours a week for a minimum of 48 weeks of the year continuously from one's early 20s to the mid-60s. Most importantly, management and supervisor training courses would have to incorporate strategies for handling time off for family matters. Managers and supervisors would be given the resources, be they time parameters, flexible staffing or technical assistance, to meet the requirements of the job as well as employee's needs for time to attend to family matters.

The very term 'work and family benefits' may itself create an obstacle. Flexible working arrangements and benefits such as leave to care for dependents may be more acceptable if aligned with overall business goals and 'work quality/work life' issues (Carmody 1993).

Flexible working arrangements and leave can be regarded as a means to enable all workers, single and older workers without children as well as those with families, to achieve a better balance between work and personal life. Such an approach can avoid equity arguments and resentments on the part of workers who see workers with family responsibilities receiving considerations to which they themselves are not entitled. Care must be taken so that difficult shift assignments, unsocial hours, extra early or late hours and, additional tasks, are not inequitably distributed among workers (Grossman 1993).

Additional impediments to implementing family supports in the workplace relate to work practices that can include new work time arrangements that aim to improve efficiency and are labelled family friendly.

Enterprise agreements may incorporate work and family supportive benefits such as family leave, leave to care for family members and flexible working conditions. The ANZ Bank, for example, allows its 29,000 staff to use their sick leave to care for sick children or family members. IBM employees can work part-time after maternity or parental leave for up to three years. At Hewlett-Packard, promotion can be gained while on part-time work. Esso Australia has established a child care centre and introduced three days a year of family emergency leave to cope with domestic crises.

Nevertheless, some caution is advised. The ACTU's Guidelines for Enterprise Bargaining (Matthews 1993) provides checklists to ensure that agreements reflect the needs of workers with family responsibilities. Employers and employees may view the introduction of new work conditions from different perspectives, with employers emphasising flexibility to meet production and service demands and employees being more concerned with schedules that are least disruptive to family life (Thurman 1990).

Rearrangements of shift times, annual leave or Rostered Days Off to coincide with production fluctuations may be inconvenient for juggling child care, school holidays or other family needs. The impact of 12-hour shifts, working one week on and one week off, extended evening and weekend opening hours and reduced holidays on family life and sharing of work and family roles needs to be considered.

A number of enterprise agreements (DIR 1992), for example, refer to the introduction of team work, or Total Quality Management systems, as a way to increase productivity and reduce absenteeism. In some cases the work group team will regulate their own leave and work times. Unlimited leave in one company was introduced with the caveat that all absences would be covered by other employees. While this may be efficient, there is the possibility that not all team members will appreciate and even exert pressure against a team member who takes time off for family matters if this affects team timetable goals. Training for these contingencies is vital so that a better work and family balance becomes part of the overall strategic objectives of the company.

Provision for using an employee's own sick leave for care of a sick family member without additional time entitlements may result in an employee having no days available for their own illness.

Many people working at home do not have the status of employees but may work independently on a casual or a contract basis. Unless employee status is clarified, teleworking or home-work can lead to isolation and loss of opportunities and benefits such as training available to 'on- site' workers; costs of equipment and insurance coverage and safety are other concerns (Dawson and Turner 1991). In recognition of the uncertaintly regarding home-based or telework conditions, the Industrial Relations Commission in February 1994 approved an award covering Federal Public Service home-based employees linked to their head office by computer. This award guarantees the same pay as office- based workers and provides for workers' compensation and occupational health and safety guidelines.

The impact of new technology on family time is another concern. Probert (1992) comments that the availability of home computers, laptop computers, faxes and mobile telephones, while facilitating working flexibly from home, can also mean that work can intrude on all hours of day. This can increase the pressure and/or guilt on workers to respond immediately to any business demand and never leave work behind despite family demands.

Corporate restructuring has resulted in a move towards leaner business operations with fewer workers. This has led to a situation where the 'survivors' take on added duties or are asked to handle the tasks of absent workers rather than hire temporary staff. This can lead to increased stress on workers and impinge on their ability to manage their family commitments. If time off to meet family needs is to be a reality, then employers must be able to have enough staffing flexibility to enable this to occur. The Australian Bureau of Statistics (1993a) shows that average hours worked in full- time employment have increased from 40 to 42 hours a week between 1981-1993. The proportion of employed men working more than 49 hours a week rose from 19 per cent to 27 per cent in this time period.

Romeyn (1992) asserts the importance of ensuring that part-time work accrues pro-rated benefits such as sick and annual leave, career pathways and job security. Such concerns are reinforced by conclusions of a Business Council Report (Business Council of Australia and Towers Perrin and Cresap 1992) that predicts an employment future dominated by core workers who will receive a range of entitlements and 'periphery' workers, casual, contract and part-time, who will receive few benefits.

Social Change

The Equality Enigma

Social policies, too, have to support structural workplace change. Sweden, for example, aims for complete equality between men and women in sharing economic earning and household roles. This objective is supported by government funded (with higher tax rates) child care, paid maternity and parental leave and mandated leave to care for sick children and to work reduced hours until a child is 8 years old. Paid maternity and paternity leaves encourage parental care for children under two years.

Within the European Community, all countries provide maternity leave with an earnings related payment for a minimum of 14 weeks. The costs of providing paid maternity and in some cases paternity leave is shared among employees, employers and the government in the form of social insurance or social security systems (Borchorst 1993).

The emphasis in Australia, the United States and the United Kingdom has been on the potential cost-benefit aspects of introducing family friendly policies. Companies have reported benefits such as improved retention and lower turnover of skilled women workers after maternity leave and reduced absenteeism with the introduction of child care options and flexible work arrangements. Flexitime benefits include workplace coverage over longer time spans and the ability to match working hours with 'peaks and troughs' of work. Job sharing has been seen to improve continuity as colleagues can cover for each other during holidays or if one is ill.

Improved morale, enhanced corporate image and recruitment are other documented findings linked to family friendly workplaces (Galinsky, Friedman and Hernandez, 1991; Business in the Community/Institute of Personnel Management (1993).

Some problems have also been identified. Part-time work options can increase administrative tasks although these have been reported to be minimal. Job sharing and other flexible work arrangements may require more creative methods of supervision, scheduling of meetings and training opportunities (DIR 1993).

Not all jobs, particularly management, supervisory and client based, are thought to lend themselves to flexibility in working hours. The question arises as to whether management and supervisory level careers are inherently resistant to more flexible organisation or whether innovative approaches to reorganisation of job responsibilities have yet to be sufficiently explored. Studies have indicated that professionals who work flexible schedules often end up working beyond their paid hours and frequently are required to adjust their times for meetings and deadlines (Catalyst 1993).

Small businesses, particularly, claim that any imposition of family benefits such as paid maternity or parental leaves or child care options without reduction in tax or other concessions to offset costs would result in their reducing or not hiring additional staff. Many small business employers with few staff reported difficulties with too much flexibility in time off since there was no one around to take over the tasks (Wolcott 1993).

The Scandinavian countries, on the other hand, take a more general social benefit perspective. The availability of child care that meets social, emotional and developmental needs of young children can be conceptualised as a children's rights issue. Child care in this sense is considered to meet not only the needs of the labour force but to promote child and family wellbeing and gender equality. With these tenets in mind, members of the European Community have expressed some trepidation with an emphasis on employer and private solutions to child care which would treat services as an occupational benefit or item of private consumption. Moss (1993) claims that: 'Without a strong public presence, services for young children will reflect and perpetuate social and economic inequalities within the Economic Community and undermine the goal of social cohesion' (p.85). Public expenditure on child care is considered an investment in the entire community's future.

Questions are also raised about the price, both financial and psychological, that individuals and the community at large are willing to pay to ensure that parents - fathers as well as mothers - spend more time with children. As Leira (1993) declares: 'When the reconciliation of work and parental obligations is at issue, it is not only the entitlements that are important, but also the degree to which they invite, facilitate, or promote the sharing of parental responsibilities for children' (p.91). One could add, caring for the elderly.

Research on fathers and parental leave in the United States (Hyde, Essex and Horton 1993) suggests fathers will only take substantial leave if they have income replacement during that time. In that country, where there is little paid paternity leave at the birth of a child, fathers use annual leave days. Even in Sweden where 90 per cent of salaries are available during most of the parental leave period of 15 months, only 44 per cent of fathers take advantage of extended parental leave, averaging around seven weeks, although over 80 per cent take paternity leave at the birth of a child (Haas 1992).

This comparatively low take-up rate has been explained by the fact that women in Sweden are still more likely to be employed part-time and in lower paid occupations than men, thus the salary loss is less for mothers to use parental leave than for fathers. Extending parental leave way beyond the six-month period has contributed to men's increased use of the leave since mothers usually prefer to be at home during the initial six months recommended for breastfeeding. Fathers are most likely to use the proportion of the leave that is most highly compensated.

Education in the broadest sense must prepare boys as well as girls for the dual roles of caring and earning an income. Bernhardt (1992) refers to the need to move toward 'two-way emancipation' rather than the 'one-way emancipation' which has seen women entering male domains of paid work with an enthusiasm and alacrity that is conspicuously missing from men's assuming women's traditional domestic and caring roles within the home. Conversely, women have to be willing to 'give up' some of the control over child rearing and domesticity through which their own sense of identity has been achieved (Haas 1992).

Fathers who have taken a more intensive child caring role often report feeling excluded or out of place in neighbourhood and school situations where mothers are expected to be the carer (Russell 1983). Others have commented on the 'feminisation of childhood' where mothers' caring of children in the home has, for the most part, been replaced by women caring for children in child care facilities and as primary teachers (Danish Ministry of Social Affairs 1993). Commenting on time use studies, Jenson (1993) observes a 'a strong resistance towards challenging the mother-and-child unit' (p.159) and wonders 'whether a mutual agreement exists in which women are not willing to give up their rights to children, while men on the other hand seldom claim their rights' (p.161).

The National Action Plan for Education of Girls 1993- 97 (1993) agrees that if women's post-school options are to be realised, then an educational context has to be provided 'which emphasises that boys as well as girls have a responsibility to participate equally in domestic duties and in the care of young children and family members' (p.29).

Sometimes good intentions require the catalyst of legislative clout. The review of the Affirmative Action Agency (1993) concluded that most companies commenced equal opportunity programs only when they were legally required to do so. This view is reinforced by the comment of a Swedish employer asked about implementing generous parental leave provisions: 'There aren't any problems because one has no choice; the law is clear that people have to be allowed to take leave' (Rapoport and Moss 1980).




In the end if we, as a community, are 'to promote policies which recognise and support the choices which families are making in combining paid work and family care', we must forge new partnerships between families, employers, government and the wider community. For men and women this may require adjusting some career goals and material expectations to achieve better symmetry between active family life and employment. For employers, exploring ways to structure work to allow greater flexibility for employees to meet work and family obligations with the fewest barriers to career pathways will be required. For the community, a commitment to the premise that men and women should equally share in parenthood and employment opportunities is necessary. This must be accompanied by a greater willingness to tolerate tax arrangements and subsidies that encourage both men and women to share work and family responsibilities (McDonald 1994).

The critical question to be answered is: How much are we as a community willing to support financially and practically the resources necessary to increase the opportunities and reduce the constraints to more equitable sharing of income earning and family caring between family members? If the answer is to support equality of opportunity between men and women, there must then be acceptance of the notion that both work and family roles are the domain equally of men and women. Such a response alters, according to the OECD (1991) the implicit 'social contract' around which family life is still assumed to be organised.




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  • Carmody, H. (1993), 'Work and family: an Australian overview'. Paper presented at the Work and Family: The Corporate Challenge Conference, Melbourne, December.
  • Catalyst (1993), Flexible Work Arrangements II: Succeeding with Part-Time Options, New York.
  • Curriculum Corporation and Australian Education Council of Victoria (1993), National Action Plan for Education of Girls 1993-1997.
  • Danish Ministry of Social Affairs (1993), Fathers in Families of Tomorrow: Report from the Conference, Copenhagen.
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  • Wolcott, I. (1993), A Matter of Give and Take: Small Business Views of Work and Family, Monograph No.15, Australian Institute of Family Studies, Melbourne.

Ilene Wolcott (BA. Ed., M.Ed.) is a Fellow with the Australian Institute of Family Studies. She has been a member of the research staff of the Institute since it was established in 1980. Her major focus of research is in the family support area with specific attention to work and family issues.

Recent publications include Work and Family: Employers's Views and A Matter of Give and Take: Small Business Views of Work and Family, both published by the Institute, and Work and Family, published by the Affirmative Action Agency.