I remember sitting in a criminology tutorial during my uni days (many moons ago, probably more than I would care to admit), and they were discussing the dark figure of crime. It is a term employed by criminologists and sociologists to describe the amount of unreported or undiscovered crime. Earlier this week, a longstanding childhood friend (I’ll refer to her as Ms. A), made me think of this term as she shared what she is currently experiencing while on parental leave. I felt compelled to share her story, especially as we continue to advocate for gender parity and strive to create more diverse and inclusive workplaces.

Ms. A is currently 10 months into her maternity leave and recently found out that her job was given to her maternity leave replacement. She was not contacted by her employer for any discussion about this or invited to apply for the role. The employer awarded the role to the other employee without advertising it. Ms. A met with her manager and local HR to discuss the matter. Their response was that Ms. A still has a contract with the employer until year end, but she was given no clarification what work she would be doing as her pre-leave job was being done by someone else. 

Naturally distressed by the situation, Ms. A. proceeded to share her experience on social media to gain moral support and advice on what to do next. What provoked me to write this piece was the reaction that followed on-line. Alarmingly, over 30 women identified with Ms. A’s story and openly shared their own similar experiences, where they returned to work after parental leave to roles that were more junior than their pre-leave role, or were made redundant while on leave.

There’s no doubt that despite all efforts, there’s still much opportunity to create safe and inclusive workplaces for women choosing to start a family. 

I’m grappling with the notion that having a family is still an issue in 2019. Why aren’t more employers taking a longer-term approach to their talent, and embracing the various phases of their employees’ lives? In a separate yet related note, the magnitude of the problem deepened for me on a personal level when reading how many of the women felt dis-empowered to engage legal levers to have their case heard, and for justice to be served. Despite anti-discrimination and equal opportunity legislation in place, and several governing bodies including the Fair Work Commission and Workplace Gender Equality Agency, among others, many felt failed by the system and opted to stay silent – ultimately becoming a dark figure of parental leave.

If you find yourself in such a situation, or know of someone who is going through it:

  • Offer or seek support. Chat with your family or close friends. 
  • Seek legal advice. Regardless of what you choose to do, be informed about your rights.

As for me, I will continue to advocate for diversity of all kind and hope that one day, hopefully in the not too distant future, a post like this would no longer be necessary. Employers will understand the value that women bring to the workplace and embrace the notion that women are taking temporary time off to create the next generation of humanity. What could be more significant than that?

Article by Author/s
Tali Shabat
Tali has a passion for aligning business strategy with people strategy to create and sustain organisational capability that delivers results. In her current role of Manager, OD Programs & Talent Management, EA & A/NZ, Tali leads regional level projects focused on influencing Employee Engagement, Talent Management, Employee & Leadership Development, Inclusion & Diversity, all underpinned by change management practices. Tali holds a Master’s in Organizational Leadership from Monash University and Bachelors degrees in Psychology and Commerce from the University of Melbourne. Tali is a certified HR practitioner and the VP of the Australian HR Institute Victorian Council. Tali is passionate about the development of the next generation of talent and has impact as a board member of the Jewish Professional Women’s Network and Mentor with the Australian HR Institute and Females in Technology and Telecommunications.

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