International Women’s Day – Family Friendly Workplaces driving gender equality and breaking the bias

The conflict between work and family life has long been lamented as a key challenge that has held back real progress when it comes to gender equality.

The battle working families, particularly women, face to bridge the work and caring divide continues to be an emotional and financial burden.  Many feel alone and isolated despite some incremental improvements to flexible work and parental leave policies over time.   The reality is our caring policies are falling short, are often tokenistic and fail to shift the needle on female workforce participation, pay parity or support men’s active involvement in sharing the caring load.

What are organisations doing to improve gender outcomes and female workforce participation?

It’s been almost 12 months since UNICEF Australia and our friends Parents At Work, alongside 23 founding and supporting partner organisations, united together to develop a set of National Work + Family Standards to encourage workplaces to embrace being more ‘family friendly’.

Not only was this seen as a necessary response to support, particularly vulnerable, working families through the pandemic; but more fundamentally to tackle and shift workplace practices that contribute to work life conflict and gender inequality by better acknowledging the vital role of employees’ caring responsibilities.

Through the National Work + Family Standards, Family Friendly Workplaces has set the benchmark for employers to consider their approach to flexible work, parental leave, care and wellbeing and family and domestic violence. These standards serve as a guide for certifying organisations to implement work life wellbeing policies and practices to be recognised as a Family Inclusive Workplace™.

There are now over 50 organisations who have been certified under these standards, all working to the break the bias when it comes to supporting every employee and their family.

How certified Family Inclusive Workplaces™ are leading the charge.

Leaders in the Pharmaceutical industry and recently certified Family Inclusive Workplace™ Sanofi are leading the charge when it comes to gender equality through family friendly policies. They recently updated their Parental Leave Policy to include a generous 14 weeks paid leave to any Sanofi employee welcoming a new child, due to childbirth, adoption, or surrogacy, irrespective of gender or sexual orientation.

Sanofi also run a Women in Leadership Council specifically created to identify opportunities for women in the organisation’s Japan Pacific Region, which includes Australia and with 57% of Sanofi’s Australian workforce being female, their Australian leadership team has six members, five of whom are women.

“Gender equality for women has been an area of significant focus for Sanofi globally and in Australia for a number of years. We’re proud of the steps we’ve taken to support the growth of women across our teams and into leadership positions, and of the fact that we have wage parity across every part of our business, but also know that there’s more to do. Over recent years our focus has evolved to include the broader discussion of gender equity and ensuring our systems, policies and organisational culture are ready to support and include all of our people regardless of their gender identity. By removing gender stereotypes we hope to mature our inclusive culture even further.” ~ Linda Matthews, JPAC Leader – Inclusion, Reward and Performance, Sanofi.

Another example of a Family Inclusive Workplace™ advocating for women in the workplace is Superannuation giant HESTA. HESTA, who are supporting sponsors of Family Friendly Workplaces and being certified themselves in our founding cohort, recently announced three measures to make women’s financial security a top priority for the Australian government. These included universal access to affordable childcare, carers credit for unpaid parental leave and a priority payment of superannuation on Commonwealth Parental Leave pay.

“There have been some significant reforms such as abolishing the $450 wages threshold for superannuation and improved super splitting arrangements, however, more needs to be done to improve financial security for future generations of women.” – HESTA CEO, Debby Blakey.

Ways your organisation can be family friendly and break the bias.

1.    Break the bias that men are not caregivers and don’t need as much parental leave – relegated to secondary carers.

The highly gendered, inflexible design of parental leave policies has meant that men have all too often been relegated to the role of ‘secondary carer’ when they become parents.  Mothers, on the other hand, are still heavily burdened with the expectation of ‘primary carer’, making sharing parenting duties in the early years difficult for working families. This has resulted in the onus being placed on women to take the longer leave period, to forgo superannuation and to work part time to continue the greater load of caregiving responsibilities thereafter.

Progressive organisations recognise the need for gender neutral parental leave, label-free policies that reflect and respect that all families, regardless of sexual orientation and gender deserve, an equal opportunity to take paid leave when they become parents and that making parents choose between being a primary or secondary carer is unnecessary and, in fact counterproductive to achieving gender parity.

2.    Break the bias that the caring role is of lesser importance, a default to paid employment.

For too long now there’s been an expectation that home life, and particularly caregiving, is expected to somehow fit around work, as if it is of less importance.

Arguably, Covid has proved to us that this is not the case. In fact, ‘caregiving’ is at the heart of our economy. And, if it is at the heart of our economy, then it is everyone’s business.

A shift in attitudes since Covid has seen many organisations recognise caring roles as vital, essential services that enable our economy and communities to function and equally see the benefits of looking after the caring needs of employees as having a positive outcome on the wellbeing of the organisations itself.

3.    Break the bias around flexible work is a career killer

If Covid has taught us anything it is that work and family is often blended without boundaries. The need for flexible work is greater than ever.  Working flexibly can no longer be seen as a career killer and such outdated attitudes only serve to place more pressure on working families.

The reality is people need flexibiliy to achieve their work and life commitments, and this is something we all benefit from in the end.

4.    Break the bias around attitudes towards family friendly being just a ‘nice and charitable’ thing for organisations to do.

Being ‘family friendly’ is not about ticking a box or doing the ‘right’ thing. It is about genuinely supporting individuals and their families to thrive at work and at home. Implementing policies and strategies in the understanding that work and family can never be truly separate is not only conducive to work life wellbeing, but also imperative.

Getting Started!

  1. Start by reviewing your workplace family policies and practices to ensure they are supportive of helping all employees and leaders improve work life wellbeing
  2. Review the National Work + Family Standards and commit to becoming a Family Friendly Workplace
  3. Be certified as a Family Inclusive Workplace™

For information on how to become a Family Friendly Employer Member or certified Family Inclusive Workplace™ contact the Family Friendly Workplaces team at

Further Reading/Listening:

Read Sanofi’s Family Friendly Workplace Case Study here.

Visit the Family Friendly Workplaces Case Study library here or hear from some of Australia’s top CEOs and executives on what it takes to be a Family Inclusive Workplace.