How to offer working parents fair leave policies

Encouraging new fathers to take parental leave could boost wellbeing and stem the gender pay gap

Heterosexual women are more likely to leave work after having a baby regardless of which partner earns more. With more women than men leaving work for childcare obligations, it’s no wonder there’s a gender pay gap. Employers must develop fair parental leave policies for both mothers and fathers to combat this and make new fathers feel comfortable taking time off work.

Shared parental leave was introduced in the UK in 2015, but uptake hasn’t been popular. A 2018 study found that despite it being an option for 900,000 parents, only 9,200 used it. Another 2018 survey suggested that lack of awareness played a role, where 50% of UK employees didn’t know if their company offered it.

By encouraging expectant fathers to take parental leave, organisations could make a dent in the gender pay gap and increase wellbeing for fathers to feel able to take leave.

1. Challenge stereotypes around parental leave

We are programmed to consider men as the breadwinners and women as the natural caregivers. Challenge this culture by encouraging new fathers to consider parental leave, whether that’s through values statements made on your company website, internal emails, or inviting fathers-to-be to sit down with HR.

2. Stop focusing on maternity leave

By overly promoting maternity leave, organisations entrench the view that women should take time off work when they have a baby, not fathers. Reiterate that you can offer shared parental leave.

3. Dismantle gender stigmas around parenthood

Employers may see new mothers as less committed to their careers, while new fathers often see a rise in salary where it is assumed they are hungrier for success as the family breadwinners. Studies show that new fathers actually want to take time out from work but are intimidated to ask management. Organisations must tackle these negative cultures through a leadership and HR coalition and engage with staff.

4. Look to Sweden

In Sweden, both parents are allowed equal paid parental leave, which amounts to 480 shared days off per child. While each parent can transfer part of their leave to the other parent, ninety days have to be taken by each parent, and this can’t be transferred. This policy might encourage new fathers in the UK, who might feel nervous about asking for parental leave due to embedded cultural reasons, to actually take it.
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