Experts in the Media

Terri Martin – Mamamia

General Manager, The Marketing Room

“A few months off work after giving birth is not enough.” Is it time to re-think parental leave?

Terri Martin, mum-of-two teenagers and General Manager of The Marketing Room, believes we can do better.

She thinks it is time we recognised the limitations of our current parental leave offerings at the same time as we examine old models of work.

“We need to change a lot of things, including attitudes,” Martin says.

“We need to look at our antiquated idea of maternity leave as a one time only solution and the antiquated model of a 9-5 work day, five days per week.

“We need to shake the whole thing up so we can better support our modern lives and family structures.”

Martin believes that offering more continued support for mums after they return to the workforce is good for the health and happiness of the whole family.

“I take my hat off to women who choose to stay at home, I think it is amazing. I know that for me however, I want and need to work. I am happier for it and I’m a better parent. My teenagers watch me thrive as I enjoy my work and I know that this is good role modelling for them.

“I don’t believe I should have to choose between being a parent or working – men have never had to! A lot of women derive happiness from having a career and parenting and they want to juggle both without feeling like they’re always failing.”

But it is not just about individual families, Martin says it is also about the economy.

“Companies like mine are looking at innovative ways we can help mums and all parents to stay in the workforce, if that is their wish. According to the Grattan Institute, ‘Increasing women’s workforce participation could generate GDP growth of $11 billion per year’, so its literally good for everyone.”

Martin believes businesses need to maintain an open dialogue with employees and offer flexible work conditions that allow parents and in particular, mums, to keep working.

“I work full time but I also work from home, which requires a degree of trust from my employer. This means that when my teenagers come home, I am around if they need me and I can taxi them to any extra-curricular activities or social engagements.

“It also means I can keep a bit of an eye on how they are going and they know I am there if they need to talk to me.”

She believes that there is a broad misconception that babies and little kids need more support than bigger kids, but that women shouldn’t have to take more time away from work.

“We have this view that only little kids need us, but I would argue that older kids and teenagers need us to be available and present.

“I don’t think women should take more time out of the workforce with teenagers (unless they want to), as many mums have already put careers on hold in the early days of motherhood and so are 10 steps behind male peers.

“Businesses need to enable women to continue their career in a way that suits their families. They should listen to their employees saying, ‘We hear you, we know what you are going through, here’s a solution’. As long as the job is done and targets met, it shouldn’t matter what hours or days they work.

“We have the technology and the ability to work flexibly, so we need a more considered approach for all working parents with kids at every age and stage of life.”

And while we need change at every level to support parents to work and care for kids as best they can, what about the dads and partners in this conversation?

Firstly, many businesses don’t fully see dads as parents, so flexible working conditions may not even be on offer.

Secondly, the more time mums spend away from the workforce – first on maternity leave then perhaps only returning part-time or freelance like me while the kids are little – the less we earn. We all have bills to pay and so the status quo remains.

I know my significantly lower income was a factor in discouraging my husband from reducing his work hours and upping his parenting time initially.

But while family-based changes are good, the government needs to lead the way.

In Sweden, parental leave has been available for dads and partners since 1974.

In 2022, Swedish dads and partners are entitled to 50 per cent of all parental leave, equating to nearly eight months of paid leave.

Affordable and readily available childcare also means most Swedish parents return to work once parental leave is over, according to data from June 2021. 

If the Swedish government has a gender equal parental leave system in place since 1974, maybe it is time Australia caught up?

Giving birth and then nurturing babies who grow up into teenagers and then adults is not just an individual ‘lifestyle’ choice by women, but something that dads and partners and governments and businesses should want to encourage and support, in order to sustain the health and happiness of their partners, employees, and citizens.

Looking after the people who are raising the next generation who will one day, run the country, raise more humans, and look after us when we are old, makes perfect sense to me.

So, let’s move this conversation about parental leave and flexible work on. We can and should do better.