Parental leave needs male role models

At Lander & Rogers we are continually updating and improving our policies to ensure parental leave can be accessed equally by men and women. We know there is still stigma attached to fathers taking leave out of fear it will negatively affect their careers. We are targeting our policies to address this.

Ryan Francis and Jared Smith, Partners at Lander & Rogers.

Lander & Rogers recently updated its parental leave policy, with 26 weeks of paid parental leave and superannuation paid for additional unpaid leave. In 2018, we removed the requirement for leave to be taken from the birth or adoption of a child, recognising that in practical terms, predominantly women would take leave in this phase. Instead, paid leave can now be taken at any time within the first 18 months of birth or adoption to encourage easy access, typically by fathers.

This change is a good example of being thoughtful in addressing unintended consequences that fathers are typically more likely to access paid leave after six months of birth or adoption.

Ryan Francis, a partner at Lander & Rogers who accessed three months of parental leave to care for his daughter after his wife returned to work, said "it gave me the opportunity to bond with my daughter, but also to appreciate how you prioritise being a working parent".

Ryan said he was anxious about how his clients and colleagues would view his decision to take the leave, particularly when at that stage he was a senior associate flagged for partnership.

"I was really nervous that it would be seen as me being less ambitious than I should have been to take the time out when I was at a really good time in my career," Ryan says. "That made me reflect on the fact that women face that all the time," he adds.

Jared Smith, a partner in the firm's Corporate practice who had the same fears about letting his team and clients down, said when he took parental leave he wanted to set an example for his team. Jared believes the key to encouraging more men to take parental leave is a "top-down approach", driven by the board, CEO and/or managing partner.

"Without having role models; without having management buying in and calling people out on it, I think it's going to be very difficult for people to feel like they can take it," says Jared.

Ryan, who has now taken parental leave twice for his two children says that clients applaud it. "Clients want to partner with a progressive firm that looks after its people," he says.

Chief executive Partner, Genevieve Collins says: "My view is that the majority of people want to be fair, but until men have experienced what it's like to be a working woman with children, it's really hard for them to be empathetic and to understand what's involved.

Broadening parental leave policies to ensure men can take leave as easily as women normalises it for everyone and takes the sting out of the gender distinction.

Until it becomes more acceptable for fathers to take parental leave, equality is out of reach," says Genevieve.