School is nearly out! Hands up those parents who are starting to panic! While six weeks (or more) with the kids can be a special time full of shared moments to remember and cherish, the reality is that school holidays can be a huge challenge, especially for working parents.

And, increasingly, parents in Australia do work. According to 2011 statistics from the Australian Institute of Family Studies, 34% of dual-income families had one parent in full-time employment and the other in part-time employment in 2011, compared with 27% in 1991; 21% of dual-income families had both parents in full-time employment. 56% of single mothers were in paid employment.

A dual income has its benefits, that’s for certain, and recent research also suggests that more than 50% of sole parents who work in Australia are better off financially as a result. But, for many working parents, employment is not a choice, but a necessity. You only have to look at the cost of living in our local area, Sydney’s Northern Beaches. According to figures released this year, 15 out of 42 Northern Beaches suburbs now have median house prices of $2 million+. And rentals don’t come cheap either. A quick glance at www.realestate.com shows that tenants would pay at least $350 per week for a one-bed apartment; when it comes to 3-bed homes, there are very few options on the market for less than $700 per week.

So, parents are working to live. But, what do they do when it comes to school holidays? We asked around and found a variety of solutions come into play, some obvious and some a little more creative. Here they are:

Family and friends
Sometimes working parents are able to call on extended family to help out. Grandparents in particular may already be active during term-time with before and after school care. In the school holidays, they take on all-day responsibilities too. Other working parents turn to close friends to look after their children, often repaying the favour by taking care of their friends’ children on another occasion.

One or both parents work from home
This solution can work well if parents work part-time, shorter hours, or share their childcare responsibilities. However, it can be tricky to manage with younger children, who don’t always understand that Mum and Dad need to work. And it can leave both parents and children feeling that they are not spending enough quality time together.

Parents work flexible hours
Similar to the above, some parents run their own business and are able to adjust their hours to suit during school holidays. Or one parent may work to a party-plan model, such as Avon or Tupperware, and be able to reduce or change their hours when the kids are home from school.

Shift parenting
In dual-income households, parents often deliberately work different hours to be able to share childcare responsibilities. One parent will work during the day, while the other only works in the evenings or at weekends, for example.

Parents take children to work
The kids go to work with Mum and Dad. Yes, it happens more often than you might think! While older children may be able to help in some capacity, the younger ones go armed with pads of paper, Textas and iPads to see them through the day.

External providers
A huge range of all-day activities are on offer for school children during the holiday period. Music, art, drama, sport … you name it, there is something to interest everyone. Cost can be a restrictive factor, however, with some programmes costing upwards of $100 per day. Many parents choose instead to look into school vacation care such as OOSH, which can be more cost-effective, particularly after CCB reductions have been applied.

Despite the options, the holidays are – and always will be – a juggle for working parents and their children. The secret: plan in advance! Squeeze in additional tasks during term-time if possible and/or highlight the jobs you absolutely have to do during the holidays. Schedule each day so you know where your kids are going to be and when. And, if you can, throw in a few days of annual leave or time off during the school break. That way, you can share special moments with your family without the pressure of a looming work deadline.

How do you make it work during school holidays?

A new McKinsey Global Institute report found that a staggering US$12 trillion could be added to global GDP by 2025 by promoting gender equality in the labour market. But achieving this outcome will involve a concerted effort by individuals, businesses, society and government.

The statistics speak for themselves. According to data published Australia’s Workplace Gender Equality Agency in August 2016, the workforce participation rate for women is 59.3% versus 70.4% for men. Women earn on average 16.2% less per week than men for working a full-time week; average graduate salaries of 9.4% less for women than for men. And one quarter of Agency reporting organisations have no key management personnel who are women.

The McKinsey report identifies six types of intervention that are necessary to bridge the gender gap, including financial incentives and support, advocacy and shaping attitudes, and laws, policies and regulations. Recruiters can play a key role in promoting gender equality in the workplace. You are responsible for attracting candidates to job opportunities, assessing their suitability for roles, and – ultimately – hiring decisions. Here are some of the steps you can take to create the workplace of the future.

Ensuring job descriptions and ads are gender neutral

Unless your role has a specific gender requirement, your job description and any ads should be designed to appeal to all potential applicants. Written material should focus on the qualifications and skills required to perform the role.

Gendered wording is also an important consideration in any job descriptions and ads. This is where words are associated with masculine or feminine stereotypes. Wording such as determined, aggressive and ambitious are considered typically masculine, while supportive, understanding and compassionate are feminine adjectives. Research published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology in 2011 found that when highly masculine wording was used in job ads, women found the jobs less appealing. Get it right and you could be on to a winning strategy: US employment marketplace ZipRecruiter found that job listings with gender-neutral wording got 42% more responses from applicants.

Avoiding personal questions at interview
Some areas are strictly off limits at interview, and at every stage of the recruitment and selection process. Make sure you don’t ask candidates – male or female – about their marital status, children and childcare arrangements, plans to start a family, or any questions related to their personal life. Play it safe – assess your candidates’ professional competency for the role.

Being aware of conscious and unconscious bias
As we have previously written, conscious and unconscious bias can affect an individual’s judgment, behaviour and beliefs. A male interviewer may have an unconscious preference for a male candidate for a role, or vice versa. You can reduce the possibility for bias in a variety of ways, e.g., by using a structured interview process to assess all candidates, and including more than one assessor in the decision-making process. Take a look at our blog article “Interviewers – Are you Biased?” for more insights into types of bias and tips on reducing their impact.

Considering affirmative action to redress the balance
Yes, in most cases you should take a gender neutral approach to recruitment. But if you work in a field where women – or men – are significantly underrepresented, then you could consider affirmative action. At the University of Melbourne’s School of Mathematics and Statistics, two out of 21 professors and one in five teaching and research staff were women in 2016. In a bid to increase female involvement in the school and sector, the university asked women only to apply for three maths and statistics jobs.

Do note that in NSW, employers generally need to have an affirmative action strategy certified by the Anti-Discrimination Board. The Board’s factsheet has heaps more information about discrimination, equal employment opportunities, and affirmative action.

The gender gap is not going to close overnight, but self-awareness by recruiters together with adjustments to recruitment and selection processes can help pave the way for significant change in the workplace.