By Francesca Pinzone, COO and Co-Founder of Umbo

The federal budget has highlighted yet again how systems built by men will inevitably benefit men. Without women at the decision-making table, the perspectives of women will continue to be a secondary thought rather than the centre of the conversation.

Adding insult to injury, when women aren’t at the decision-making table and their needs are eventually considered, it’s in the abstract and conceptual form, rather than based on experience. This leads to assumptions and broad sweeping statements about what women need.

Free childcare has been heralded as a major and progressive step towards supporting women and, while I applaud the constructive discussions on this issue and the efforts being made to make this a reality, we need to realise that free childcare would merely be the starting point if Australia was to get serious about supporting working women, particularly working mums.

Mum-of-three, Francesca believes free childcare is a starting point for supporting working mothers.

Systemic change is overdue

The pandemic has highlighted the gaps and cracks in our social fabrics, particularly in our aged care, disability and rural health sectors. Change at the system level is long overdue and it’s women’s perspectives that can ensure this change is delivered most effectively.

With women more likely to be the primary caregivers, their views on how we can best support children with disabilities and the elderly is vital.

For example, every day at Umbo we talk with women in rural Australia who are struggling to find speech therapists in their area, instead resorting to driving several hours each way with their child for a single appointment.

While free childcare would help in some areas of their life, how would it help here where they still need to take a day off work for their child to receive basic health care? If these services aren’t made accessible for working women, the shackles released by childcare costs are simply replaced by new shackles of a different shade.

Francesa – here with her family and Santa – believes there needs to be a focus on aged care, disability and rural health sectors

We need to re-define flexibility and re-wire the workplace

Flexibility for most workplaces has historically been about flex-time, or coming in and leaving the office an hour or two early. Due to the pandemic, it’s definition has changed to being about working from home. But real flexibility needs to be about results and productivity, rather than blanket concepts that may work for some and not for others.

While some working women, for example, will benefit from working from home several days a week, others will rely on better internet connectivity in the office. While some women will appreciate flex-time, women with disabilities may need the flexibility to change their hours and schedules on the fly.

It’s going to take a two-way street of communication for workplaces to effectively change for the better, whereby working women clearly communicate how they can be empowered to be most productive, and employers listen with empathy and collaborate to built a ‘new normal’ together.

I’m optimistic about what the workplace and home will look like for working mums in the coming months and years, as the pandemic has forced us all to stop and re-assess what is truly important. But to make the most of the changes and opportunities ahead, we need to ensure our leaders don’t fall for the easy option of making promises based on assumptions rather than experience, or worse, assuming there are simple solutions to systemic issues that have existed for decades to the detriment of half our population.