In a move aimed at improving gender equality, Africa’s biggest stock market operator, the JSE, has given all parents, regardless of gender, four months of paid leave.

The JSE is one of a handful of SA companies that have joined Silicon Valley giants such as Netflix in discarding parental leave policies that make a distinction between mothers and fathers, as defaulting towards women as primary childcare givers could derail their careers and reinforce gender inequality.

JSE human resources director Donald Khumalo said the local bourse was convinced the benefits of its policy shift would outweigh the costs.

“Our society is ever-evolving and companies should adapt to these changes,”  Khumalo said. “It is with this in mind that we have revised all our policies to ensure they are gender-neutral and in line with the inclusive society we operate in.”

Extended parental leave for both parents is already common practice in Scandinavian countries such as Sweden, which became the first country in 1974 to give both parents time off for child care, and the law in its different formats since then is credited with fostering gender diversity in the workplace.   

Sweden is among the top five most gender-equal countries in the world,  according to the 2020 global gender gap index by the World Economic Forum, while SA squeezed into the top 20 of the index that measures the steps countries have taken to close the gap on a range of issues such as economic participation, education, political empowerment and health.    

The JSE’s move comes amid shifts to SA’s labour legislation. As of January, parents, irrespective of gender, are entitled to 10 consecutive days of paid parental leave. This does not apply to mothers, because they are already entitled to paid maternity leave.

It could also heap pressure on other companies to come up with similar costly benefits to compete for and retain talent in the financial services industry, in need of highly skilled workers.  

Khumalo said the gender-neutral policy helps position the JSE as an employer of choice in the financial services sector and would also assist in staff morale.

The move is in line with the 17 UN Sustainability Goals, he said, which “call for companies to do away with policies that perpetuate gender bias and stereotyping”. The policy makes provision for all JSE employees that are expecting a child to take parental leave to spend time with their newborn or adopted baby. Parents who have achieved successful surrogacy also qualify for fully paid parental leave.

JSE employees can choose to take the leave over four consecutive months with their partners, or stagger it, allowing the first partner to take the initial four months and the second partner to be home for the next four months.

Said Khumalo: “This enables a child to have eight months of uninterrupted parental care.”

The JSE has about 500 employees, with an average age of 39.

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