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The best companies to work for if you're a new parent

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When my first child was born, I didn't receive paid parental leave from my employer or the government. But these days a birth mother can qualify for government-funded parental leave of 18 weeks for a newborn.

On top of this, around 50% of Australian employers offer some sort of paid leave - just how much varies from company to company.

Typically it is offered to women as paid maternity leave, but some companies are ramping up paid leave to new dads.

best companies for parental leave

About 35% of Australia's top 500 companies offer two or more weeks of secondary carers leave, according to a survey by CoreData for the HBF health fund. It puts together a list of the best workplaces for new dads in terms of paid leave.

HBF found the most generous parental leave is 18 weeks, taken over three years, offered by consultancy firm Deloitte, followed by Telstra with 16 weeks, then Medibank Private and Novartis with 14.

Highly ranked companies at the top of HBF's list have ditched the distinction between primary and secondary carer, replacing it with parental. This means men can apply for the same amount of leave as women, an arrangement that is "more fair and flexible", says Melanie Evans, head of ING's retail bank, which adopted 14 weeks of paid parental leave for both new mums and dads for the first two years of a child's life in September last year.

Evans says using a label such as "primary carer" for the mother at the start of a child's life tends to set it in stone forever, but this doesn't really reflect the way families live these days, with parents swapping roles as circumstances change.

When it was looking at changing its former parental leave scheme, ING surveyed Australian families and found that 76% believed companies should permit equal leave for parents of a newborn. The men surveyed believe there is a stigma attached to being labelled the "secondary carer" if they took time off to care for their baby, with 66% saying they would be judged if they requested leave to look after their baby. By replacing it with parent, it removes the misconception it is only for women.

"But if you are a parent, you are entitled to leave," says Evans.

Since the measure was introduced, the number of ING fathers taking more than two weeks parental leave has quadrupled.

It makes good sense for companies to offer family-friendly policies to attract the best employees.

There are plenty of bonding and emotional rewards for men who spend time raising their kids. Research from the US shows that it can reduce divorce; while research from Sweden shows it improves the mental health of mothers too. Some 18% of new mothers suffer from postnatal depression. The research found mothers are 26% less likely to need anti-anxiety medication and 11% less likely to need antibiotics.

For Blake Walsh, the 14 weeks' leave given by ING meant he could help his partner, Heather Burrows, recover after the birth of their son, Finn. He took six weeks when Finn was born to help establish a routine and some extra weeks when Heather returned to work and Finn was settling into daycare.

"It is so hard to put into words how much it means to me," says Heather.

The flexibility and financial support mean Blake has been there for Finn's milestones, such as crawling for the first time, swimming lessons and cutting new teeth.

"I didn't want to miss out on that," he says.

He is more available for any unexpected illnesses that result in Finn having to stay home from daycare. Blake and Heather say their friends are amazed at the level of company support.

COVID-19 magnifies the need for parental leave equality, says Melanie Evans.

A survey of 405 new parents found that 67% of mothers want their partners at home under COVID-19 because they are more anxious and isolated. Limited contact with friends, family or social groups has taken a toll. Family dynamics are changing too with 31% of new dads saying they have taken on more parenting responsibilities in the home.

Top 20 parental leave employers

1. Deloitte Australia 
2. Telstra     
3. Medibank 
4. Novartis 
5. QBE Insurance Group
6. Tabcorp
7. Macquarie University 
8. South32
9. Mirvac 
10. Australian Securities Exchange
11. Commonwealth Bank
12. AustralianSuper 
13. British American Tobacco
14. Australian 
National University 
15. PwC
16. Curtin University 
17. SAP Australia 
18. EY
19. IAG
20. HBF

Source: HBF, December 2019. Ranked by weeks of leave.

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Susan has been a finance journalist for more than 30 years, beginning at the Australian Financial Review before moving to the Sydney Morning Herald. She edited a superannuation magazine, Superfunds, for the Association of Superannuation Funds of Australia, and writes regularly on superannuation and managed funds. She's also author of the best-selling book Women and Money.
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