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Women in Small Business | Government needs to rethink maternity leave

Kate Carnell’s interview on The Brew revealed some important facts about maternity leave and small businesses: it’s just not working out for female business owners. Carnell raised the point that many female business owners weren’t eligible for Paid Parental Leave (PPL) due to the fact that it wasn’t flexible to suit their needs.

Kate recounted the story of her first child being born early and how she had to go to work with her baby to ensure her business was kept running. She says that if this were the case now, she wouldn’t be eligible for paid parental leave, as currently, self-employed mothers can only access the PPL scheme if they’re not working from the moment the baby’s born. And on top of that, it must be taken in one continuous block of up to 18 weeks.


“So basically you need to be prepared enough to take an almost clean break from your business as soon as your baby arrives.”


Kate emphasised how hard it can be for a small business owner to leave their business, and urged the federal government to make changes to the scheme to suit the more modern and flexible needs of working mothers. She suggested that the 18 weeks should be broken up over a year if needed.

The Sydney Morning Herald recently highlighted that some women have been caught unaware of the limitations, and were denied payment because they did a few hours of work each week. Others planned to take the leave a few months into their baby’s life, rather than immediately, and were subsequently denied payments.

As a small business owner, it concerns me that women don’t have many choices when it comes to getting maternity leave. Peter Strong, CEO of the Council of Small Business of Australia, notes that women are operators in a true business sense of at least 50% of our small businesses. This means that 50% of business owners are at a disadvantage when it comes to family planning.

“Having often built it from the ground-up, many women in small business think of their enterprise as their other ‘baby’, so the idea that they can just up and leave is unrealistic and impractical,” Kate wrote for the Daily Telegraph in November 2016.


“So what’s the answer? In a word: flexibility.”


Kate urged the government to understand that the PLL needs to change and become more flexible: “Given these restrictions, you could reasonably conclude the Government’s PPL scheme discriminates against self-employed women. Seriously, show me any business owner that can have 18 weeks solid off, and return to find the business the way they left it; it’s just not possible.”

The difficulties women face with the PLL does nothing to encourage more female business owners, and it can even discourage some business owners from having children when they want to. It’s time the government rethought maternity leave, considering that small businesses make up 97% of Australian businesses.

Listen to my interview with Kate Carnell here.

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