Parent Issue #2 – Is Shared Parental Leave Working?

Welcome to the Parent Issue No. 2! This is a series of posts, which discuss real life issues faced by both mummy and daddy and looking at ways to bring parenting into the 21st century. Here we are going to discuss Shared Parental Leave (SPL), which is a Government policy introduced in the UK in April 2015 to allow mothers and fathers to split maternity leave between them in the first year of the child’s life.

Why SPL?

SPL is important for the UK as the increasingly ageing population sees a requirement for competition for talent in the workforce. That is, to encourage more women to stay in work when they start their families. Its also valuable for families to be able to have the flexibility to split work / parenting duties between two people. We are no longer in an age where fathers go to work and mothers stay at home to look after the kids.

More women than ever now work, so its fair the responsibility of raising the kids is also shared. We live in a time where fathers have more of an interest in raising their children from birth. Although there are some limitations (i.e. breastfeeding), there are ways around this (expressed milk in bottles or formula or a bit of both). Ultimately the child benefits from being raised by both parents from the beginning as it’s important for children to create a bond with both parents. This also helps children to see parents in an equal light in order to move towards equality as a society.

1 Year On

Its been over a year since SPL was introduced in the UK but only 2% of fathers have taken up the option to take this leave (the government expected a participation rate of 8%). There are a few reasons for this:

1) Stigma in the corporate world – couples may feel men should be at work and women at home with the baby. In some cases there may be a “clash of generations” where older and sometimes more senior staff may not agree with the new generation’s lifestyle.
2) Finance – SPL may not be financially viable for some families, as men tend to earn more than women in some cases, it may make more viable sense for the father to stay at work to earn a bigger income for the family, while the mother goes on maternity leave.
3) Career – some men feel if they ask for SPL they are obstructing their chances of a promotion and may fear to be seen as “not serious” about their careers.

Although SPL is still in the early stages and has not had a great start, breaking down social “status quo’s” often takes many years. Better policies like SPL also contribute to the fight for equal pay for men and women and less discrimination in the workplace. For example an employer may not hire a women if they think she will take maternity leave soon after they hire her and hire a man instead (although this is illegal).

If more men take part in SPL, this stigma against woman becomes less gender specific, as the male candidate is just as likely to take leave to start a family as much as his female counterpart. Therefore this reduces (and we hope we move towards eliminating) this discrimination against the female candidate. If this becomes the norm, then it can be argued this lays down the steps to eliminating the wage gap between male and female workers, as their working life patterns become identical.

What needs to be done to improve participation?

The idea of the status quo where men go to work and women stay at home needs to be re-written. Employers should start to embrace this idea and be flexible as was the intent of the policy. Employers who adopt a more flexible and innovative approach will result in better morale and commitment by the employees in the medium to long run. The argument that some men feel as though they have built a career and taking time off would jeopardise this, is similar to the argument that women are not hired because they could get pregnant and therefore go on maternity leave. This may then force employers to look at employees, both men and women in an equal light and may be forced to adopt a fairer practice across the board.

If SPL is applied properly across firms, this will allow both men and woman to climb the corporate ladder and having a child is not a hindrance to either parent’s career goals. It has also been scientifically proven that companies who have female as well as male senior members of staff benefit from increased productivity and efficiency. What firm wouldn’t want that? This of course will take years but it’s a step in the right direction and is ultimately better for everyone.
There are a few things you could do to be better prepared:
A good practice may be to let your employer know early that you intend to take SPL (usually 8 weeks is minimum time). Open up discussions with your Human Resources department and Manager to allow them time to work around your absence and to arrange alternatives.

As the SPL and Pay may not work out to be financially viable for all parents, try to save and plan your finances as early as possible before starting a family. Of course this is not always possible but the better you are prepared the smoother the ride!

Know Your Rights

Make sure you are fully aware of your rights before you speak to your employer. Not only in relation to SPL and Pay but also in terms of Maternity & Paternity leave and pay.

Full details can be found on the GOV.UK website:

Shared Parental Leave & Pay: click here

Maternity Leave: click here

Paternity Leave: click here

Final Thought

It’s a shame we are in the 21st century and we are still struggling to find a way to handle the arrival of the new generation. Although the workplace has changed drastically since the war years as women have now entered the workplace, the social stigmas seems to have lagged behind. Change is good and we need it in order to build a better world for the next generation. Its too early to say if SLP is a success or not, but much needed perseverance in breaking down these outdated stereotypes is definitely a step towards a brighter (and equal) future for everyone. We say, march on, keep going and fight for what you are legally entitled to. Together, hopefully we can empower both mummy and daddy with the use of SPL to make a more abundant life for both parents and of course, little junior!

More information on these findings can be found here

 

Sources: ft.com (Emma Jacob); gov.uk; totaljobs.co.uk

 

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