On the second anniversary of a revolutionary policy that gives parents the opportunity to split time caring for their new born baby, studies have revealed that as little as one percent of men have so far taken up the opportunity to do so. Shared Parental Leave (SPL) was introduced in April 2015 so that new parents could share statutory leave and pay on the birth of a child. It was designed to enable new dads to take a greater share of childcare and new mums to return to their careers earlier if they wanted to. However, research from Working Families however has shown that a quarter of fathers are not fully aware of their rights, while the lack of financial support means many families cannot afford for fathers to take time away from work.
The research also suggests that 48 percent of fathers would not take up their right to parental leave. The reasons for this are mixed a third because they could not afford to and a large proportion due to how they may be perceived when they return to work. There is a perception amongst many men, especially those in male dominated industries, that splitting parental leave will reflect negatively on them in the workplace. In all honesty I believe that taking maternity/paternity leave can still be perceived as a negative for both men and women, and we must do more to support new parents deciding how best to cope with caring for new born babies. Men and women should be able to share this responsibility without any associated stigma getting in the way, and more needs to be done in order to address the perceptions around the issue.
As a mother, I know how difficult it can be to start a family and manage a career. I currently sit on the Board of Directors at Selick Partnership, have a large team to manage across two offices in England, and have two young children of my own. I recall the challenge I was faced with when my son was born in 2009, I took seven months maternity leave, but I remained pretty much 'on call' for the duration. I therefore know it is often not possible to take lengthy periods of time away, and it can and is still frowned upon in many organisations. For me, shared parental leave would have been a welcomed option, and I think for women at senior level the scheme is an excellent idea and step in the right direction.
It is encouraging that politicians have acknowledged the slow uptake of SPL and have committed to reviewing the effectiveness of the policy. It is obvious the policy is not working as it stands, and changes must be made to make it a viable option for more parents across the country. In order to make the policy more attractive the government should consider equalising statutory maternity pay and shared parental pay to prevent SPL being a second option and encourage more people to use it.
Whilst I recognise that the days of women being the primary care giver will probably never be over it is encouraging to see SPL as an alternative solution for women who wish to have a successful career, however more still needs to be done to allow for realistic use of the policy. HR teams and management need to provide adequate support and flexibility to ensure employees are aware of their rights and feel comfortable taking parental leave and also to ensure that top talent, who also happen to be parents, can remain in the workforce.