GETTING men to take more days off might seem like an unusual way of getting more women into boardrooms, but a new organisation striving to even up the gender imbalance in the corporate sector believes it could be the solution to one of the nation's most entrenched inequities.
The organisers of the 100% Project say the reluctance of male executives to take up flexible hours and paid parental leave is sustaining a work culture that is fundamentally hostile to women.
The project - launched in Sydney on Friday - is undertaking a major survey of men to test their views on balancing work and family.
''We think that many men in Australian workplaces quite possibly want something different, but are reticent to adopt practices, such as flexible working hours, that have traditionally been provided to working mothers,'' project chairwoman Frances Feenstra said.
''This reinforces the differences between the genders and means men are more likely to climb the ladder than women.''
The director of the Centre for Work + Life at the University of South Australia, Barbara Pocock, said Australian corporations tended to be hostile to parental leave.
''Men tend to be very aware of their vulnerability in the workplace - they mark themselves harshly and in close comparison with others,'' Professor Pocock said. ''Those who do take leave are seen as not serious about their work or about the goals of the team. That environment is not hospitable to women who want to have children and need to take leave or go on to more flexible hours to do so.''
Just two in every 100 Australian chief executives are women and more than three-quarters of senior corporate leaders agree it is easier for males to reach senior positions. They also say working part-time impacts on promotional opportunities.
Scott Cooper, an IT manager at law firm Mallesons Stephen Jaques, is planning to make full use of the 14 weeks paid parental leave offered by the firm when he becomes a father for the first time in September.
''I think the issue for men is sometimes a financial one,'' said Mr Cooper, who will also take up the option of working at home. ''If they're going to have to take a cut in pay in order to take leave they're going to be reluctant to do that, especially if the family is relying on their income.
''If there is a scheme in place that allows you to take time off without suffering financially, I think more men would do it.''