Why you should encourage employees to take shared parental leave

Paternity Leave, shared parental leave featuredA very short answer to this question is because both have a child! 

In other words; women don’t just become mothers, people become parents.

Why is it then, that in the UK specifically, only 2% of men take the offer of paternity leave?  Thankfully, the tides are turning on this topic and we see employers like Aviva, Spotify, Diageo & Expedia leading the way when it comes to shared parental leave. All of these companies offer equal paid parental leave, ensuring their employees have access to equal benefits, so when taking into the consideration the company that provides two weeks paternity leave and 24 weeks maternity leave, that’s 12x more benefit for the woman. Imagine if a man received one week’s holiday entitlement and a woman twelve weeks, there would be uproar!

So, how do employers help their employees move on? The Triple-A approach is a good place to start:

  1. Affordability

Ensuring equal paid parental leave removes the “I can’t afford to take time off” barrier and is cited as the main reason fathers can’t take leave.

Companies can move to an equal shared parental leave policy.

  1. Acceptability

Many parents report colleagues & friends challenge their shared parenting decision, making the move less socially acceptable.  We know men want to be more present fathers, in 2019 GQ magazine shared it was their male readers no 1 priority… what a shame that social norms are holding them back. In some daddilife/workingmums.co.uk research, less than half of the parent respondents had even discussed shared parental leave as an option! I will admit 7 years ago I fell into this camp too, so this isn’t just about men, women need to talk and change their attitudes too.

Companies can help by the way they communicate parental leave to help move on people perception of what’s “normal”.

  1. Ambition

Whilst researching for my TEDx talk I spoke to 200+ men and the no1 reason holding them back from taking leave was the fear that companies would think they were not serious about their careers.  In research conducted by daddilife, many dads reported taking as little leave as possible is viewed as a badge of honour in their company. How sad.

Companies can help by sharing examples of high performing males or males in senior roles taking parental leave and providing Executive support to those who do take the leave.  One Women At Work member shared that her husband’s CEO said “here’s my mobile number, if you run into any blockers you just call me, I’ve got your back”. I have a feeling a lot more men would feel comfortable taking shared parental leave if this was their leader’s response.

So, why is it important for both parents to take parental leave?  In the case of families with 2 parents, shared parental leave ensures the parental load, including the headspace load is shared.  This supports both physical and mental wellbeing for both parents.  The Nordic Cooperation stated that “involved fatherhood” improves male health status.  We would all be wise to look to the Nordic countries for their societal success in embracing shared parental leave.  Just check any café in Stockholm on a work day to see the sheer volume of fathers enjoying parental leave, or in the absence of a trip to Sweden the Nordic Cooperation have a series of excellent research articles and supporting data on their website.

You could argue the most critical factor in why you should encourage shared parental leave is the child.  I saw this first hand with my twin daughters.  I was overwhelmed during those early baby days so my husband had no choice but to be more hands on.  Six years later he continues to have a fundamental shared sense of responsibility and as a result has the most beautiful and unique connection with our daughters.  Whether that’s the ability to get them out of the door to school in the morning, or to coach them through their latest playground mishap. he’s wholly there for them and I love him for that. And we’re not alone, this critical benefit is well reported and often shared by Women At Work members.

Outside of any family benefits the overwhelming benefit I see to shared parental leave is how by normalising equal parenting we will normalise what equal means in the workplace.  As long as there are mainly women taking parental leave, they will continue to be typecast into the carer role.  I truly believe if it could be a man or woman taking parental leave, gender discrimination in the workplace will reduce significantly.  It means women can stop having to remove their engagement rings when attending interviews to avoid the “ah getting married soon I see” question, which actually means, so you’ll be leaving us soon to have children! Or looking over women for promotion, just in case they might not be around.  If a man or woman could be taking parental leave, you’re narrowing your field of talent considerably!

In summary, why should we all encourage people to take shared parental leave? Women don’t just become mothers; people become parents and deserve equal opportunity to be parents.

Caroline Strachan featuredAbout the author

Caroline Strachan is a TEDx speaker and co-founder of Women at Work. Find out more via https://womenatwork.org.uk/

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