April 6, 2016
One year on from its launch and it’s emerged that just 1 percent of men have so far taken up the opportunity of Shared Parental Leave (SPL) while over half (55 percent) of women say they wouldn’t want to share their maternity leave rights. 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. A combined survey of over 1,000 parents and 200 businesses (HR Directors) from My Family Care and the Women’s Business Council 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. It found that 80 percent 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.
However, while take up so far is still low, the research found that men are interested in taking SPL in the future, with almost two thirds (63 percent) of men who already have young children, and are considering having more, saying it was likely they would choose to take SPL.
Of the 200 employers asked, the majority said that they enhanced both maternity (77 percent) and paternity (65 percent) 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:
“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.”
Although Shared Parental Leave was introduced, in part, to help women get back into the workplace, just over half (55 percent) of mothers said they wouldn’t want to share their maternity leave with their partners. But 48 percent 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 percent of men saying this and 57 percent of women. Only 40 percent of individuals say that SPL is encouraged by their employer.
Although Shared Parental Leave has hardly had a massive impact on new parents in its first year, the survey did find that 48 percent of businesses are optimistic, believing it will become more accepted over time, while 45 percent think it will remain a minority choice. 87 percent of men said that they would like to take longer leave so as to be fully involved in parenting their child.
Ben Black founder of My Family Care argues that it is still very early days for what his organisation describes as: “a 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”.
He said: “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 percent 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.”