When a woman gets married, it is not uncommon for people to automatically enquire as to whether they plan on continuing to work. Assumably, this question follows the necessary implication that a married woman must immediately want to have children, and in turn, never return to work. Whilst the majority of mothers in Australia work part-time at the bare minimum, the issue of working mothers still causes great controversy amongst society, and between women themselves. However, regardless of the validity of arguments for and against working mothers, the necessity of having two working parents is a financial reality for most couples today.
So how do women face the return to their jobs after they have their child? Whether a woman takes off 6 weeks or 6 months, the return to the workforce can be daunting. Women returning from maternity leave must face whether their role has shifted or changed, the reality of catching up up on company or project progression and the ways that they will manage their family life and their work life – without compromising either.
As a result, we’ve put together 5 tips to help women return from maternity leave:
1. Know your rights
Under Fair Work Rights in Australia, “an employee who’s been on unpaid parental leave is entitled to come back to the job they had before going on leave.” This means that regardless of whether someone has filled their role during their absence, they have a right to fit back into this same role. Additionally, any reduced working hours adduced by the later stages of pregnancy will not mean an employee is entitled to less hours upon return. For further information or to lodge a complaint about your employer, contact the Fair Work Ombudsman.
2. Consider flexible hours
With the rise of technology infiltrating the administrative side of businesses, employers are increasingly finding ways to allow employees to adapt their workload to their family life. Between video conferencing and instant communication via email and telephone, there are many ways that both men and women can stay at home to work, caring for their child at the same time. Where flexible arrangements have been made between employers and employees upon return to work, businesses are obligated to uphold such terms under the Fair Work Act.
3. Consider your superannuation
The current maternity leave scheme does not contain a provision for superannuation. The importance of superannuation is considered to be deeply undervalued within Australia, and as a result of the pay gap and parental leave, women currently hold only 37% of Australia’s total superannuation savings. Once you return to work, it is important to talk to your partner about your options, and to get together with your taxation officer to discuss options.
4. Sincerely consider the pros and cons of child care
The currently proposed Parental Leave Scheme under the Liberal Government plans to approach parental leave as an embedded right as opposed to a welfare payment for women. As a result, the scheme will enable women with higher paying jobs to be able to afford childcare more easily than if they were given an unpersonalised sum. However, as the costs of childcare are on the rise, many couples are advised to consult a financial advisor to determine whether the cost of childcare for returning to work mothers or father outweighs the salary they will be earning.
5. Discuss how your partner is willing to help out
Financially, physically and professionally, women tend to be on the wrong end of the stick when it comes to making sacrifices for a family. Most reasonable partners should be willing to discuss who is the “breadwinner” who has a more flexible parental leave program at their workplace and therefore, who will take the majority of time off to care for their child. In addition, it’s important to remember that for whoever is sacrificing their income, career and superannuation, the other partner should be willing to help out with other aspects. Communication could resolve many future stresses for both people.
Finally, the most important thing for women returning to work is to try and set reasonable expectations. The idea that any woman “has to have it all” is unachievable and leads to anxiety and stress. Take tiny steps towards your goals; whether that be a very gradual introduction back into working, or being realistic about both your physical and mental well being. Ensuring you communicate with strong support network of friends, your partner, family and fellow mums can help to make you realise that you are not alone.
WORDS BY CYNDALL MCINERNEY
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