Bad news: read all about it!
“Why take-up of shared parental leave is so dismally low” proclaimed City AM at the end of November. ‘It was seen as weird’: why are so few men taking shared parental leave?’ said The Guardian’s October headline. ‘UK Named Among Least Family-friendly Countries in New Study’ warned The Independent in June this year.
Since April 2015 parents have been allowed to split up to fifty weeks of leave between them, with the 37 weeks of statutory maternity pay can be paid to either the mother or father. The intention behind this SPL deal is to improve diversity and close the woeful gender pay gap.
If we look at the data on shared leave taken through the government scheme, the picture is indeed grim. These articles continue with more bad news numbers: “When it comes to paternity leave, the UK ranked 28th in the list, offering fathers two weeks’ statutory paternity leave at £148.68 per week”, continued the Independent article. “Just 9,200 new parents took up shared leave in 2018 out of more than 900,000 who were eligible, the study found”.
Dismal news? Yes. True reflection of the situation? Not really.
Although the above is an accurate reflection of those taking up government SPL, it’s thankfully not a great reflection of what’s happening more broadly. Organisations are starting to write their own SPL policies and some of them are truly revolutionary. Many of them are tackling the biggest downfall of the government scheme: lack of paid leave.
Letting businesses lead the way on SPL
That bit above about £148.68 per week on government SPL, yeah that’s your sticking point. You don’t need to be a Londoner to find that amount of weekly government pay a little, um, limiting.
So why are we at The Juggling Act so optimistic amidst all this supposedly bad news? Simple. Because many organisations have now written and implemented their very own Shared Parental Leave policies. These policies are being advertised internally and externally. They are being celebrated in their company cultures, and men are being encouraged to take the leave and spend real time with their children. Two big things are happening as a result:
1. It’s helping women go back to work, with support in place at home and in the confidence that the child is well looked after (by the other parent). And there are no additional childcare costs.
2. The men are genuinely enjoying it and are becoming happier, more balanced and fulfilled fathers (and employees).
The Shared Parental League
Among those campaigning for fathers to take the chance to stay at home for the second six months of a child’s life is Joe Young of the blog Dad on SPL.
Joe says it is the only way forward for our society: “Gender equality in the workplace will only be achieved when men take an equal role as the primary caregiver to their children.
“It is very difficult for men to be the primary caregiver in the early months of a child’s life. The difference between being a ‘hands-on dad’ and being capable of being the ‘only-pair-of-hands dad’ and is why I focus on the second six months.”
Joe has compiled, and regularly updates, The Shared Parental League table (see below), highlighting companies leading the way in workplace gender equality. As of November 2019, the top performers were Standard Life Aberdeen, Mishcon de Reya, Linklaters, Lloyds of London, UBS, Aviva and Hammerson who all ranked as Champions League Qualifiers, thanks to their family-friendly policies of allowing either parent to take leave ON FULL PAY in months 7-12 in their child’s first year, regardless of their gender. It also applies to those who have adopted or had a child via surrogate.
What the guys say
Even in the notoriously testosterone-fueled worlds of finance and law, changes are gradually being made to encourage men to take more than the traditional fortnight.
Among the dads who have benefited from these forward-thinking policies are senior consultant John Darling who was one of the first to take advantage of the change in the law in 2015. His wife Becky took the first six months off to care for their son Arthur, then the couple switched roles for the rest of the year.
John explained: “I work for people from Sweden who said, ‘This is normal in Sweden – this is just what people do!’ Having six months off really put everything into perspective from a personal point of view.” Looking back, John says the experience made him a more confident dad: “I can’t see any blockers at all. I’d recommend it to all blokes. It’s important, it’s great fun, you will understand your child a lot more than if you hadn’t done it.
“There is probably anxiety around finances. The other thing that may play a part is the social stigmas that we still have. It certainly feels like some tasks are seen as a woman’s job or others as a man’s job. Quite frankly that attitude just needs to be knocked on the head.”
Andrew Woodhead, an associate at Knight Frank, echoed these thoughts after taking SPL when his wife returned to work seven months after the birth of their son.
“No one had taken SPL in my team,” Andrew recalled. “No one wants to feel that they are losing out when it’s not the norm in their company, and naturally might have concerns about promotions and progression but society has moved on and not taking the opportunity, should your family dynamic allow for it, is a no brainer.”
Read the full interviews on Joe Young’s blog here
Approaching a tipping point
When our son was born in 2017, my husband took 6 weeks on full pay from his banking job. That was huge at the time. In our NCT group of 10 expectant couples, only one other father took extended leave for 3 months (and it was unpaid). Today when I speak to friends – some of whom are now expecting a second child – it seems everyone is doing it.
For me, the following says it all: in a recent discussion of SPL plans with a fellow mum – who is expecting a second child in the new year – she quipped, “Now that he [her husband] has taken SPL once with our first kid, he wants to do it again, but this time for longer. The other day he joked that he wants to take the full 6 months after me – at least I hope he was joking – I said, forget it! 3 months maximum, I want to take the rest.”
When we are approaching a point where the financial and societal barriers to SPL are being removed such that parents are able to squabble over who gets to spend more time as primary care-giver, well, that’s progress in my book!
About The Juggling Act: for Parents in Leadership
The Juggling Act is a consulting agency. We work with organisations on how they can better support their working parent employees through cultural assessments and transformation. As part of this offer, we also run The Juggling Act leadership programme: a 4-part combination of coaching sessions and workshops, designed to empower parents re-entering the workplace, enhancing their focus and self-assurance as well as offering real-life practical exercises in negotiation and communication skills.
Our mission is to make the world of work more successful and fulfilling for everyone: employers and employees, women and men, for generations to come.
Register for the April 2020 Programme
The Juggling Act Working Parents Programme is registering now. The 2-day workshop portion of the programme will be on the 2nd & 3rd of April 2020. We will be running several in-house programmes for clients in between.
The April Programme is open to delegates (any current or expectant parent – bio or non-bio) from all organisations and sectors and takes place at the Century Club in Soho.