Primary carer's leave, a commitment to gender equity.

Burnet Institute

07 August, 2019

Image: Geoff Chan and his son, Emil

The aim of the Burnet Institute Gender Equity, Diversity and Inclusion (GEDI) Committee is to promote and improve gender equity, diversity and inclusion across the Institute by developing and implementing strategies informed by both national and international best practice and staff input.

As part of our commitment to gender equity, Burnet provides primary carer’s leave to all staff and we are encouraging men to speak openly about their caring responsibilities and role-model the taking of carer’s and parental leave.

We are beginning to see changes in regard to who is taking primary carer’s leave, especially among members of Burnet’s TB Working Group.

Three members of the group, Suman Majumdar, Geoff Chan and Khai Huang are all new dads who have recently taken primary carer’s leave. We spoke to all three about their experiences.

Suman: Interestingly I wasn’t all that aware of the entitlements and new policies around parental leave. I probably had my own biases that parental leave was primarily for mothers, and the other carer was entitled to two weeks as a standard, and it wasn’t actually until a focus group we had for the Gender Equity Committee where it came to my attention and I looked into it.

Khai: I only became aware once Suman was taking leave that it was an option. I had discussions with HR because there were nuances in my case in terms of when I started and the requirement to take the leave within your child’s first 12 months. And then also because there were a few of us in a similar situation in the office, we staggered it so we wouldn’t all be off at the same time.

Overall, though, it was reasonably straightforward. Because I hadn’t been at Burnet long I ended up with a month (on a pro-rata basis), but we found it really valuable. It’s great to be able to spend time with your child and it’s not an opportunity you normally get at that early stage in other workplaces.

Geoff: My wife had just started a new job before she took parental leave, so she’s not eligible for the equivalent amount that you would get having worked at a place for 12 months. But also she’s really excited about the role and wanted to go back a bit earlier than she did with our first child.

So this was a way for her to return to work a bit earlier and still put our son into child care at an age when we felt more comfortable leaving him in long day care, basically. But it’s a nice thing anyway to spend time with your kids. Our son is now almost nine months old, and he’s our second child.

What are the benefits of primary carer’s leave?

Geoff: In the big scheme of things it means you have more confidence in a different kind of relationship with your child when you’re the main person caring for them. I remember when I first went to four days a week and I had my first son on my own for the whole day for the first time.

In the first 12 months of his life that had never been something I’d had to do for that long a period and on a recurring basis, and I think it it’s a nice way to develop a relationship, having that amount of exclusive time with them and seeing how they grow, and finding your own ways of interacting and working with them.

Around the time that my first son turned one I changed from working full time to four days a week, and exercising that option to go part-time has been invaluable. The initial reason for this was so that my wife could go back to work while not wanting our son to be in day care for more than two days a week.

I’ve been enjoying the time that it has given me to spend with him and I haven’t really wanted to give that up to return to full-time work. What that extra day has given me is more opportunities to interact with him and watch how he learns and grows in different situations and contexts – at toddler dance classes, rhyme time at the library, exploring the zoo.

Having that time where it’s just the two of us has also helped me to learn the dynamics of how we relate well to each other – when he might need room to explore and be independent versus when he might need encouragement or reassurance. I think some of those things would have developed more slowly without that time.

Suman: I think the main thing was that it just gave me the space to actually be the primary carer in our household. Secondly, it gave me quality time with my son during a wonderful stage of his life and thirdly, it actually enabled my partner to return to work. She was in a state of career transition since having the baby and was able to focus on her career and take on additional work. As a result she is now back close to full time work and we have childcare arrangements for our son.

Burnet should be congratulated on its progressive parental leave policy. Parental leave that is not focused exclusively on the mother is an essential step to gender equity in the work force. We are very grateful that we have such an opportunity. I think it certainly has led to a healthier happier home, work place and hopefully a healthier, happier child! Now that I’m back at work we talk a lot about sleep deprivation and its impact on work together, but it is nice to have a group of other dads to share ideas and experiences and just to talk to.

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