Supporting Pregnant Women and Mothers: Increasing Retention Rates among New Mothers Requires More Than Just Meeting Minimal Leave Requirements and Establishing Onsite Breastfeeding Facilities, as the Experience of an Australian Banking Firm Makes Clear

Article excerpt

The Australia and New Zealand Banking Group Limited (ANZ) is a major international banking and financial services organization--the largest bank in New Zealand, among the five largest companies in Australia, and one of the top 50 banks in the world. ANZ has more than five million customers worldwide and employs more than 30,000 people globally.

ANZ prides itself on creating a high-achieving culture with consistently increasing levels of employee engagement. We encourage our workers to bring their "whole selves" to work and for more than half of our employees, that means their role as a mother or father.

This creates a challenge for ANZ to find practical ways to help our people balance the twin demands of home and family One way we've responded is by developing a range of employee benefits to support the 60 percent of our employees who are female, many of whom are also mothers. These benefits, which exceed minimum standards defined by Australian law, support our goals to be an employer of choice and a highly competitive force in the war for talent.

While we still have more to do to meet these goals, we have already seen pleasing results from this approach. Over the past two years, our employees' rate of return from maternity leave has increased from 80 percent to 87.4 percent and the incidence of women in management-level positions has risen from 24 percent in 2000 to 33 percent in 2005. Organizations that monitor workforce trends have taken notice: ANZ has been named an Employer of Choice for Women and was recently honored as the "Leading Australian Organisation for the Advancement of Women" (among employers with more than 500 employees). (1)

A FEELING OF INDEPENDENCE

Australian law dictates that all new parents have the opportunity to take up to 52 weeks of unpaid leave, but despite recent lobbying, employers are not required to grant paid parental leave. In 1998, ANZ began granting six weeks of paid parental leave to mothers and fathers; in 2005, ANZ increased paid parental leave to 12 weeks, with no qualifying service period. The pay can be taken as a lump sum or as a full- or part-time rate.

One new mother at ANZ, Joanne Farrugia, said the flexibility of this payment was a great help to her. "The 12-week payment allowed us to focus all of our attention on our new arrival without having to worry too much about our finances," she said. "It was great to receive the payment as a regular income [half pay over 12 fortnights] because I felt like I still had my independence for a few months."

Other staff members were able to take longer leave because of this payment. "The new rulings meant that I was able to be off for longer, as I chose to take the 24 weeks at half pay," said one mother. "This amount paid all my loan repayments for six months, as we had just purchased a block of land and taken out a loan to build a home. Without this pay, I would nearly have had to come back to work straight away."

ANZ also has engaged the services of a professional childcare provider to develop and operate childcare centers at a number of sites across Australia. ANZ employees using these sites have special benefits such as priority enrollment.

Child care in Australia is a major concern for many parents. In August 2001, the Australian Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Commission commenced a comprehensive examination of the need for a national paid maternity leave scheme. The commission found that "access to affordable and quality child care is still a problem for many families with young children." (2)

The commission received 257 submissions from individuals, employers, employer groups, unions, community and women's groups, health professionals and organizations, academics, and state and territory governments. Feedback from the majority of stakeholders in the debate indicated that childcare is a "crucial area of concern to be considered alongside paid maternity leave. …