Shared parental leave a slow starter a year on from launch
It is now a year since the launch of Shared Parental Leave (SPL). The revolutionary policy that allows couples to share leave surrounding the arrival of a new addition to their family helps women get back into the workplace quicker, and gives men the opportunity to care full time for their new baby or adopted child in the crucial first year.
However, new research from My Family Care and the Women’s Business Council, has found that just 1% of men have so far taken up the opportunity to share their partner’s parental leave while 55% of women say they wouldn’t want to share their maternity leave. The combined survey of over 1,000 parents and 200 businesses (HR Directors) found that taking up SPL was very much dependent on a person’s individual circumstances, particularly on their financial situation and the paternity pay on offer from their employer.
The main reasons why men have chosen not to take up SPL are financial affordability, lack of awareness, and unwillingness from women to share their maternity leave. 80% of both men and women agreed that a decision to share leave would be dependent on their finances and their employer’s enhancement of SPL.
But, while take up is still low, the research found that men are interested in taking SPL in the future, with almost two thirds (63%) of men who already have young children, and are considering having more, saying it was likely they would choose to take SPL.
Ben Black, Founder of My Family Care, which helps businesses introduce family friendly ways of working said: “It is still very early days for Shared Parental Leave. While take up is low, its introduction was a fantastic step forward when it comes to equality in the workplace; a policy that proves that women are no longer expected to be the main childcare provider, while men are no longer expected to be the main breadwinner.
“The key thing for businesses is to help their employees combine work and family, by providing them with choices and enabling them to carry on with their careers while having a family. More and more we’re going to hear fantastic stories of fathers, at senior levels, who have taken Shared Parental Leave, and once these stories filter through, and the notion of sharing leave in this way becomes ‘normal’, then it will be accepted practice and that 1% will gradually increase. Of course, all change takes time and while it hasn’t so far been the cultural change that many were clamouring for, I suspect with many companies enhancing paternity leave, momentum will grow.”
Of the 200 employers asked, the majority said that they enhanced both maternity (77%) and paternity (65%) pay. The core reasons were to be consistent with their culture of fairness and equality, and to increase retention and engagement of both men and women. Those companies who haven’t enhanced SPL did so because of the potential costs involved primarily, followed by their view that they’d be better off ‘waiting and seeing’ if the opportunity proved popular.
Emer Timmons, Chair of the ‘Men as Change Agents’ working group at the Women’s Business Council said of the findings: “The findings from My Family Care published this morning highlights the important role that business can play in raising awareness of the opportunity to take SPL. One year on, we can see that some fathers have embraced the opportunity to spend time with their young families but that there is still a long way to go for others. Increasing flexibility in the workplace was a key recommendation of the Women’s Business Council, designed to give women more control over career choices, and I am delighted to see that My Family Care is working with enlightened organisations to kick-start the culture change that is needed to give fathers the confidence to take time off for childcare. Increased flexibility is good for women, good for families, good for business and ultimately the economy, so it’s a win-win situation all round”.
While Shared Parental Leave was introduced, in part, to help women get back into the workplace, just over half (55%) of mothers said they wouldn’t want to share their maternity leave with their partners. But 48% of women said they wanted to have a shorter time off for career purposes. There was also the general consensus that a man taking SPL could negatively impact on his career with 50% of men saying this and 57% of women. Only 40% of individuals say that SPL is encouraged by their employer.
However, one father who jumped at the chance to take Shared Parental Leave in July was Tom Picton-Turbervill who is a Senior Manager in Tax at Deloitte. His wife gave birth to baby Henry in June. He took the initial two weeks paternity leave when he was born and then four weeks SPL, together with his wife, during August.
His main aim for taking leave was to support his wife and build up a relationship with his son, Henry, who is now nine months old.
Tom said: “Babies change so quickly in those first few months and I wanted to be there to experience it. Taking the time out has given me confidence in looking after my son. My wife and I learned how to be parents together rather than me trying to catch up on weekends and evenings. The time off allowed me to spend time with him and my wife in those first few weeks, watching him develop. It was a big shift from implementing large technology projects for FTSE 100 companies to helping my wife with night feeds and changing nappies. However, unlike your phone, you can never switch off from your baby.
“My colleagues at work were really supportive of me taking the time off and a common reaction was ‘I wish this was around when I had my kids’. The process was easy and I even received a babygrow from the firm.
“I would highly recommend taking shared parental leave as there is no way to get this time again. Plan ahead so you can work with the team to hand over your work and make sure you enjoy every moment.”
So what does the future hold for Shared Parental Leave? 48% of businesses are optimistic, believing it will be normalised over time, while 45% think it will remain a minority choice. 87% of men said that they would like to take longer leave so as to be fully involved in parenting their child. However, finance forms the crux of the decision with 80% of both men and women agreeing that a decision to share leave would be dependent on their finances and employer’s enhancement of SPL.
One company that has been ‘bowled over’ by the number of employees considering SPL is Citi. Xanic Jones, EMEA Diversity & Inclusion says: “From the outset of the proposed SPL provision Citi took a firm decision that we would treat SPL equally to our maternity leave offering for employees. Our senior management were very supportive of this direction and sanctioned the proposed internal policy without much hesitation. We believe this firm commitment to treat our employees equally sends a strong and positive message of supporting our staff.
“We have been bowled over by the number of employees who have considered SPL and who have taken up the opportunity to take SPL. Double the number of employees have taken SPL than we had predicted for the first year and what we have found is that Citi’s policy has proven to be a real differentiator, and recognizes Citi as a family friendly employer. While these early dads may be the pioneers of taking SPL they are the start of normalizing SPL into Citi’s culture, recognizing that it is OK for both mums and dads to take a longer period of time off work when a new baby arrives into their family and that our staff will be more loyal, more productive when they return and flourish in their careers as a consequence.”
The Dad Network is one of the UK’s top support website for fathers. Al Ferguson, Founder of The Dad Network (www.thedadnetwork.co.uk) says: “These findings show that there is still a stigma attached to a dad’s role within parenting. Many working dads still feel it’s their duty to go out and earn the money, despite having this option to stay at home with their new baby. This is slowly shifting however, in other areas of society and I think it’s only a matter of time before we see that 1% figure rise. That being said, there are many hurdles that need to be overcome first. SPL is a slow step forward; the fact that dads have that option that they never had before is fantastic.”
My Family Care has created a resource pack for businesses to help them understand what SPL means to them. This is downloadable at www.myfamilycare.co.uk/news/update/shared-parental-leave-educating-managers.html.