Author: Sara Charlesworth works at the Centre for Applied Social Research, RMIT University
The last decade has seen a lively debate about work and family balance and about appropriate policy responses to the dilemmas of what Barbara Pocock calls the work/family collision.
In this presentation I want to tackle some of the implications of the current work/family debate for gender equality in the workplace. I focus on what we have come to understand as 'work/family' or 'family friendly' workplace benefits.
In my talk I want to make two related arguments:
So what do I mean by gender equality? The definition used in a study of EEO initiatives for the European Foundation of Living and Working Conditions is a useful one. Gender equality is the concept 'that all human beings are free to develop their personal abilities and make choices without limitations set by strict gender roles; and that the different behaviours, aspirations and needs of women and men are considered, valued and favoured equally'.
In the context of work and family gender equality is about recognising that men and women have a right to participate fully in nurturing and paid work or as Sandra Berns puts it that men and women have the right 'to be both social parents and economic parents'.
But first some context setting:
The receding of the equal employment opportunity agenda
Over the last decade we have seen any political and policy focus on equal employment opportunity or EEO for women, at its height in the 1980s and early 1990s, gradually recede from the public policy arena.
At the policy level too we have seen a shift away from EEO to 'work and family'. Indeed in a recent Office of Status of Women publication, the main focus on what the government is doing for women in employment is on the promotion of work and family initiatives. The policy construction of women as 'mothers' was recently highlighted by the relocation of the Office of Status of Women from the Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet to the Department of Family and Community Services.
The disappearing of the EEO agenda, both in relation to work and family and more generally, is in sharp contrast for example in the UK where the 'E' word - equality - is an integral part in policy debates around women in employment, reflected in the Women's Equality Unit, part of the UK Department of Trade and Industry.
Shifts in understanding of 'work and family'
The other related contextual point I want to make is how our policy discourses around work and family have shifted.
In 1991, Australia ratified ILO Convention 156, the Workers with Family Responsibilities Convention as it is often called. It is worth recalling the full title of the convention which is the Convention concerning Equal Opportunities and Equal Treatment for Men and Women Workers: Workers with Family Responsibilities
Article 1 of the Convention makes this policy aim clear and states:
With a view to creating effective equality of opportunity and treatment for men and women workers, each Member shall make it an aim of national policy to enable persons with family responsibilities who are engaged or wish to engage in employment to exercise their right to do so without being subject to discrimination and, to the extent possible, without conflict between their employment and family responsibilities.
Article 4 sets out the obligations of the counties ratifying the convention more specifically and states that:
With a view to creating effective equality of opportunity and treatment for men and women workers, all measures compatible with national conditions and possibilities shall be taken--
(a) to enable workers with family responsibilities to exercise their right to free choice of employment; and
(b) to take account of their needs in terms and conditions of employment and in social security
All measures compatible with national conditions and possibilities, including measures in the field of vocational guidance and training, shall be taken to enable workers with family responsibilities to become and remain integrated in the labour force, as well as to re-enter the labour force after an absence due to those responsibilities.
While the role of men and their uptake of family friendly benefits is now being discussed in some quarters, it is worth remembering that at the time ILO Convention 156 was ratified there was some controversy about it the Convention requiring policies enabling men as well as women to combine family responsibilities with paid work and enabling men to take a more equal role in raising their children. However in policy terms, the sharing of domestic and paid work responsibilities was seen as an important mechanism to achieve gender equality, an understanding that was picked up by the Office of the Status of Women in its 1991 Sharing the Load campaign.
A new male breadwinner model?: The policeman & the part-time sales assistant
This aspiration to 'sharing the load' seems to have gone underground in current political debate around work and family, which is now focused on what I would argue is the 21st century version of the male breadwinner/female homemaker model. Now much has been written about the demise of the male breadwinner, not least because we have seen profound changes in the employment status of women with dependent children.
For example in 2000, the traditional male breadwinner model of family comprised only 30.5% of all couple families with children compared to 51.1% in 1981. In the same period the proportion of families with both parents in paid work increased rapidly from 41.5% in 1981 to 56.4% in 2000. The largest grouping, those where one parent is employed full-time and another part-time, comprised 32.5% of all couple families with children in 2002. This of course does not even include single parents with children, a grouping which in 2001 made up more than 22% of all families with dependent children.
In 2001 almost half (47%) of single mothers with dependent children 18 years and under were in paid employment, as were 61% of couple mothers. The erosion of the traditional male breadwinner model reflects the dramatic increase in women's participation in paid employment, particularly women with dependant children, whose employment and the hours of that employment increases with the age of their youngest child. However, at the same time the acceptance of women's place in paid employment is constrained by the fact of their motherhood.
We see this most sharply in the Prime Minister's description of the new paradigm of the Australian family as "the policeman and part-time sales assistant" in his address to the 2003 Liberal Women's Convention. This is a highly gendered depiction of men's and women's work and family roles. A police officer is an archetypal male occupation both numerically (80% of police officers across Australia are men) and in the masculine image it conjures up. The sales assistant is of course an archetypal female occupation associated with the service industries (71% of part-time retail assistants are women) and conjures up stereotypical feminine attributes of serving. Sales assistant work is also associated with casual employment (for example 70% of women working part-time in the retail industry work on a casual basis), an employment status that is associated with a lack of benefits such as annual, sick and carers leave and typically with little career progression or opportunity for advancement.
The relationship of the policeman and the part-time sales assistant in Howard's representative Australian family leaves in no doubt what is the real job. The realities of many policemen's lives means that there is little guessing at who is the breadwinner and who is the homemaker. That is, the women's participation in paid work is contingent on fitting in and around her male partner's work. In a very tangible way, the 'policeman and the part-time sales assistant' paradigm associates motherhood with caregiving and fatherhood with breadwinning.
Now this 'policeman and the part-time sales assistant paradigm' was not a throw away line; it was carefully thought out and invoked in radio interviews and in a number of speeches. This paradigm is not only conceptually far removed from the Sharing the Load campaign, but also ignores the large number of single parents who are both primary caregivers and breadwinners. However it works to shape the current policy responses to the issue of work family imbalance. As Maria Stratigaki argues 'choices of specific words reveal policy changes, shape policy makers expectations, and accommodate political interests'.
In speeches John Howard used his version of the dual earner couple family to argue that the government's responsibility is 'to deal with life as it is... rather than an idealised paradigm or indeed an unduly elitist paradigm...' He argues that "it's the job of the government to focus on the needs of mainstream Australia, and mainstream Australia is that policeman and the part-time sales assistant."
So in a policy sense at least, the demise of the male breadwinner model is much overrated. The policeman and part time sales assistant metaphor evokes what Janet Gornick and Marcia Myers refer to as a 'highly gendered partial specialisation between men and women', and has serious consequences for gender equality. We have moved from the emphasis in ILO 156 on enabling workers with family responsibilities to become and remain integrated in the labour force, to women's paid work being integrated only in the secondary labour market in a way which entrenches rather than minimises gender inequality.
The underpinning assumptions of this 21st century male breadwinner model have a profound influence on employment policy and can have led to a number of contradictory and paradoxical consequences in respect of work/family provisions at the workplace.
Poor coverage of work/family benefits
Many mothers don't have access to work/family benefits at the workplace. Indeed the overwhelming majority of the Prime Minister's archetypal part-time sales assistants would be ineligible for benefits such as carer's leave on the basis of their casual status.
The influence of casual status is reflected in Edith's Grey's study, which shows quite clearly that employed women who have young children were the least likely to have access to family-friendly initiatives. Women with a child under 5 years were less likely than men with children, only 57% report access to paid sick leave, 38% access to family or carer's leave and 29% to paid maternity leave. Indeed while men have greater access to work/family provisions they are less likely to use them - an issue to which I will briefly return.
The OECD has politely noted there is only a 'low penetration' of family-friendly work practices in Australia. However this patchy and inadequate coverage of family friendly or work/family benefits is justified by the government as a reflection of the 'choice' exercised by parents. Despite its obligations under ILO 156, which places the emphasis on what is needed to ensure equality of opportunity and treatment for men and women workers with family responsibilities, the government argues that a decentralised system of enterprise bargaining and individual agreement making allows for such benefits to be negotiated where they 'are a high priority for employees'. That family friendly benefits are not negotiated to a greater extent, particularly by working mothers, appears to be taken as evidence that such benefits are a low priority for these employees or that any workplace flexibility required by couple families to balance work and family can be provided through the part-time hours of the mother.
The price of accessing work/family benefits
Now many women do seek to work on a part-time basis to meet the dual demands of work and family. There are however real costs to this decision, particularly for women in low-paid occupations, not only in wage penalties but also in the deeply gendered nature of part-time work.
Poorer conditions and benefits
There is now a significant Australian literature which points to the trade-offs made by many women in taking up part-time employment. Access to reduced hours is welcomed, but other aspects of the job such as irregular working-time schedules, job insecurity and poor career prospects are often severely resented.
'Working mums' seen as less committed workers
If the dominant work/family discourse casts women's role primarily as a caregiver, then we can see their role in paid work as secondary.
This may be reflected in workplace stereotyping of working mothers, particularly those who work part-time and /or in low status occupations as less committed than men or childless women. Women's commitment to family is often seen as incompatible with commitment to their work in a way in which it is not for men. 
The inadequate coverage of family friendly benefits leaves 'ideal worker' norm in place
The typical Australian workplace is still structured around the 'ideal worker', as Joan Williams calls him, unencumbered by domestic responsibilities. The norm of this ideal worker is assumed in the way in which work is organized in many workplaces, with long hours and/or unpredictable overtime. On the other hand, part-time work is seen as the appropriate 'choice' for women, because it allows them to balance their work and family responsibilities - As Colette Fagan and Jacqueline O'Reilly argue, part-time work is part of larger gender regime; it means women can enter paid employment and meet the particular labour requirements of the service sector without disrupting men's traditional breadwinner status at the workplace or at home.
This discourages men's uptake of w/f benefits esp part-time work
Men's low uptake of such arrangements suggests that they are only too well aware of the career costs of doing so. Michael Bittman and his colleagues point to a number of workplace barriers faced by men which reflect the power of the ideal worker norm. These include:
Indeed employers, supervisors and senior managers thought that breaks or reductions in working hours could irreversibly damage men's careers.
Those who access benefits may be seen as a 'problem'
Those that do take up work/family benefits, who remain overwhelmingly women, may find themselves penalized for doing for not behaving like the 'ideal' worker as we saw in a case in 2003 taken under the SDA. The Federal Court found that Ms Evans, an intelligence analyst and also a single parent, had been discriminated against by the National Crime Authority by having her performance assessment marked down and ultimately not having her contract renewed because she had accessed carer's leave to which she was entitled. Ms Evan's manager was unhappy about the whole concept of carer's leave and actively discouraged taking such leave because he wanted "100% commitment to the job.'
W/F debate masks gender inequality
Unequal pay, gender segregation, male-dominated work cultures are not seen as a policy 'problem'.
The other point which I will briefly canvas is that the current focus on work/family issues masks persistent gender inequality in the workplace, reflected in the unequal pay, gender segregation and male dominated work cultures. These manifestations of gender inequality are not seen as a policy problem.
The government is deafeningly silent on strategies to address the persistent gender pay gap. We no longer have a federal pay equity unit. And while there has been some focus on the poor representation of women in senior and executive management, the concentration of women at the bottom of many organisations is not seen as an issue of gender discriminatory work organisation.
Gender pay gap and gender segregation becomes a choice
Indeed, women's preferences for working reduced hours particularly when their children are very young are seen as a justification of gender segregation in employment. The consequences of this segregation, particularly in part time jobs, are also constructed as choice. In an article last year, Janet Albrechtsen describes the gender pay gap as a consequence of women's choice; as a result of their 'preferences for part-time work or just less work or different work than men, with its inevitable consequences for promotion and pay..'
However as Joan Williams has pointed out, a system that allows only two alternatives to mothers:
is a system that discriminates against women.
Economic, social and equality benefits in increasing women's labour force participation over the life course remain hidden.
Australia's employment rate for mothers with children is well under the OECD average. For example, for women aged 25-54 years with one child, Australian employment rates are 55.3% compared to an OECD average of 70.6%. For women aged 25-54 years with 2 or more children, the Australian employment rate is 43.2% compared to an OECD average of 61.9%. In addition, the predominance of part-time work among mothers contributes to significant differences for men and women in hours of work and working time across the life course in Australia. These factors contribute to the feminisation of poverty in retirement.
However recent policy discussion about increasing labour market participation in the context of Australia's aging population has focused on increasing the participation of older Australians while largely ignoring policies which would support increased labour market attachment of women over the life course. As Gillian Whitehouse argues, if we were to better support women's labour market attachment during the parenting phase of their lives this would not only meet the economic concerns associated with an aging population but could also help address the current gender inequality in being able to provide for retirement.
In conclusion, I want to argue that we need to reclaim the original aspirations of ILO 156 and also reinvigorate a broader gender equality agenda
Reassert gender equality as a social and economic goal
We need to talk about the consequences of sex segregation; the lower return on women's human capital, the blokey male cultures. We need a public debate to tackle the different facets of gender inequality.
The last major inquiries to be held in Australia were:
More than a decade on, perhaps we could follow the example of the recently established Women and Work Commission in the UK. Announced by Prime Minister Blair in July 2004, the Commission is to examine the problem of the gender pay gap and other issues affecting women's employment.
The Women and Work Commission will look at:
While I don't hold out much hope for such a Commission in Australia in the current political climate, we need to be generating increased public debate about gender equality in employment and gender equitable work/family arrangements.
A clear starting point is to ensure that work/family benefits are available to and taken up by all employees who wish to use them. However this won't happen unless the gender inequity of the current arrangements are seen as a problem.
Dual earner/dual carer model
One policy response both to the work/family dilemma and to entrenched gender inequality is a goal of a 'dual earner-dual carer society'. Rosemary Crompton describes this as "a society that recognises the rights and obligations of men and women to engage both in paid work and care work and one that also values children's need for intensive care and nurturance in their earliest years." Working towards a dual earner/dual carer policy vision of work and family is particularly important for gender equality. As Nancy Dowd has noted limiting women's opportunities to participate in paid work (no matter what number of hours they work) also works to limit men's opportunities to become equal parents and active nurturers.
However, while it is critical that paid and unpaid work are valued equally and shared between men and women, it is also important to recognise that some households have more resources than others for care. Gillian Pascal and Jane Lewis argue that we need to look at the distribution of responsibility between households as well as within them. And for that we need a model of gender equality based on citizenship, with obligations to care underpinned by rights to social and infrastructure support eg by providing benefits such as paid family leave, child care and workplace regulation which supports economic work and care work without penalty.
Make the links between W/F and pay inequality, gender segregation etc
We need to make the links between W/F and other gendered inequalities such as pay inequality, gender segregation etc. For example, highlighting how pay inequality limits gender equality at home and at work. When a couple have a child and are deciding on their paid and caring arrangements after the child is born, the fact that typically the father earns more than the mother is a clear pressure for a traditional gendered division of labour in order to maximise their income.
We also need a fresh focus on w/f policies in their role in maintaining attachment to employment, not only being able to provide care (which was the focus of much of the debate around PML), as a long-term individual, social and economic good.
Moving from discrimination prevention to promoting gender equality
We need to move beyond a narrow policy framework that focuses preventing discrimination to one that positively promotes gender equality. The Blair government is currently considering proposals for a public sector duty to promote gender equality, where public authorities would have a duty to actively enhance opportunities and pay for women on a continuing basis. In Victoria at least, the Attorney General's Justice statement also provides a platform for the proactive promotion of gender equality with its emphasis on new approaches to citizenship and reducing systemic discrimination, and developing strategies to promote attitudinal change.
Make the links between good quality part-time work & gender equality
There is a clear need for regulation and standards in relation to part-time work to ensure that part-time work is not a mechanism which entrenches gender inequality. We need to ensure that there is:
Strengthening part-time work holds potential for breaking down gendered work assumptions. However as Colette Fagan notes, if only women work part-time, even in high quality jobs, this will generate new forms of inequality. The issue is how to include men.
Broaden W/F focus to include men
We need to encourage men's access to and uptake of W/F benefits. Michael Bittman and his colleagues suggest that two major policy initiatives are:
· to encourage men to become more involved in parenting when their children are very young, by establishing entitlements to paid paternity leave. Paid paternity leave avoids the problem of men having to choose between breadwinning and parental involvement
· ensure better regulation of working-time to reduce the impact of growing hours of work on the work-family balance. This has been an important site of policy activity in Europe with a lot of interest being shown in the French system of capping weekly hours of work, and in the Dutch experiments in having large proportions of both men and women working part-time. In the Netherlands the policy emphasis is on a 2 x ¾ earner model for couple families instead of a 1 ½ earner model ("Combination scenario") with supportive changes in taxation policy and working time regulation
Identify leverage points for action
While the political and policy climate may appear fairly grim, we should seize the opportunities that do exist for action and public debate around gender equality both more generally and in the work/family policy context where we can.
in the public arena
at the enterprise level
Despite the limits of much of the public debate around work and family, there are some interesting cultural shifts at the workplace level that can also be harnessed. Indeed there is sometimes more understanding at the enterprise level of just how and why gender inequality persists than at the public policy level. As part of a research project, I interviewed the HR Director of a major professional services firm who argued it was the unspoken and gendered assumptions about women in organisational cultures that has to be addressed. He said:
You have an Australian community, [a] business community in particular, which is primarily men. It's getting shifts in consciousness that becomes very important. It's very subtle at the end of the day. We are talking about very subtle things that need to be changed. You know you can have all the programs in the world but it's ... assumptions which are unexamined, assumptions about who is best for the job [that] never get challenged ... we are absolutely equal opportunity here but it is in the small choices about what we do, often made by men day in and day out, [that] almost sit in between, sit in the marrow between the bone.
HR Director Busico
If we are to realise the potential for work/family policies and practices to enhance opportunities for women in the workplace and indeed for men to be more involved in family life, the challenge will be how to build on and encourage such shifts in consciousness around gender (in) equality in the broader work/family debate.
 Pocock, B. (2003) The Work/ Life Collision: What work is doing to Australians and what to do about it, Sydney, Federation Press.
 Etta Olgiati and Gillian Shapiro (2002) Promoting Gender Equality in the Workplace European Foundation for the Improvement of Living and Working Conditions, Luxembourg, 3.
 Sandra Berns (2002) Women Going Backwards: Law and change in a family unfriendly society Ashgate, p195
 OSW (2004) What the Government is Doing for Women 04 http://www.osw.dpmc.gov.au/publications/publications_list.htm
 Marian Sawer (2004) 'The Commonwealth Sex Discrimination Act: Aspirations and Apprehensions' Women, Work and Equity Forum University of Sydney,1 August 2004. http://www.humanrights.gov.au/sex_discrimination/20thanniversary/women_work_equity/speeches/sawer.html
 Office of Status of Women (1991) Working families - sharing the load: an issues kit for Workers with Family Responsibilities Program. Commonwealth of Australia.
 Iain Campbell & Sara Charlesworth (2004) Background Report: Key Work and Family Trends in Australia Centre for Applied Social Research RMIT University, Melbourne. See Table 3.10, pA2-45.
 ABS (2002) Census of Population and Housing: Selected Social and Housing Characteristics, Australia 2001 Catalogue No. 2015.0.
 Iain Campbell & Sara Charlesworth (2004) Table 1.7 pA2-8.
 Alison Preston 'Women's Work in Australia: Trends, Issues and Prospects' Australian Journal of Labour Economics 6(4) p514
 Alison Preston (2003) p514
 "Casual" is taken as having no access to leave entitlements. See Australian Bureau of Statistics (2003) Employee Earnings, Benefits and Trade Union Membership Australia, August, Cat. No. 6310.0.Tables 5 and 15.
 See Sandra Berns (2002) 198.
 See for example John Howard (2004) Address at the Opening of the 2003 Australian Liberal Student's Federation Convention, 7 July 2004; John Howard Interview with Neil Mitchell 12 December 2003, Radio 3AW.
 Maria Stratigaki (2004) The Cooption of Gender Concepts in EU Policies: The Case of "Reconciliation of Work and Family"' Social Politics 11(1) p 51.
 Terry Plane 'PC Howard has a couple in Min' June 7 Weekend Australian p 5.
 Janet Gornick and Marcia Myers (2003) Families that Work: Policies for Reconciling Parenthood and Employment Russell Sage Foundation, New York, p25.
 see Stratigaki (2004) p45.
 Edith Grey (2001) 'Colliding spheres: work and family initiatives and parental realities' Just Policy no. 24, 33-40.
 Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (2002) Babies and Bosses: Reconciling Work and Family Life, volume 1, Australia, Denmark and the Netherlands, Paris, OECD, p17, see p200.
 John Howard (2003) 'Giving Australian Families Choice' Options 17, August 2003, p5.
 For a summary of this literature see Campbell & Charlesworth (2004) p46-48
 Sara Charlesworth (1999) 'Working Mums: The Construction of Women Workers in the Banking Industry' (1999) Journal of Interdisciplinary Gender Studies 4(2) p18.
 Jacqueline O'Reilly & Colette. Fagan eds.(1998) Part-Time Prospects: An International Comparison of Part-Time Work in Europe, North America and the Pacific Rim, London, Routledge, p48.
 Michael Bittman, Sonia Hoffman and Denise Thompson (2004) Men's uptake of family friendly employment provisions Policy Research Paper 22, Department of Family and Community Services.
 Evans v National Crime Authority (2003) FM375,
 Janet Albrechtsen 'It's choice, not oppression' The Australian 14 July 2004, 15.
 Joan Williams (2000) Unbending Gender: Why Family and Work Conflict and What to Do About It, New York, Oxford University Press., 15.
 Campbell and Charlesworth (2004) Table 1.11 A2-12.
 Gillian Whitehouse (2005) 'Policy and Women's Workforce Attachment' Just Policy Forthcoming
 Whitehouse (2005).
 Rosemary Crompton ed (1999) 'Discussions and Conclusions' Restructuring Gender Relations and Employment: The Decline of the Male Breadwinner. Oxford, Oxford University Press.
 Nancy Dowd cited in Sandra Berns (2002) p195.
 Gillian Pascal and Jane Lewis (2004) 'Emerging gender regimes and policies for gender equality in a wider Europe' Journal of Social Policy, 33(3). See also Di Zetlin and Gillian Whitehouse (2003) 'Gendering Industrial Citizenship' British Journal of Industrial Relations 41(4), p773-788. with their notion of gendering industrial citizenship, with social rights infused with notions of fairness and social justice.
 UK Women and Work Commission ( 2005) Interim Statement.
 Victorian Government (2004) Attorney General's Justice Statement. New Directions: the Victorian Justice system 2004 2014. http://www.justice.vic.gov.au/CA256902000FE154/Lookup/JusticeStatement2004/$file/Summary.pdf
 Sara Charlesworth, Iain Campbell, Belinda Probert with June Allan and Leonie Morgan (2002) Balancing work and family responsibilities: Policy Implementation Options, A report for the Victorian Department of Premier and Cabinet & Department of Innovation, Industry and Regional Development, Melbourne, Centre for Applied Social Research p87.
 Colette Fagan cited in Janet Gornick and Marcia Myers (2003) Families That Work: Policies for Reconciling Parenthood and Employment New York, Russell Sage Foundation p17.
 Michael Bittman, Sonia Hoffman and Denise Thompson (2004) p186
 Sara Charlesworth, Philippa Hall and Belinda Probert (forthcoming) Contexts and Drivers of Affirmative Action, Equal Employment Opportunity and Diversity Action in Australia Organisations.