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The Government stepped up its campaign to promote take-up of Shared Parental Leave this week.
Workplace culture plays a key role in decisions surrounding the uptake of shared parental leave, according to research on Shared Parental Leave highlighted by the Government as part of the second phase of its push to promote take-up of the policy.
The research, by Dr Sarah Forbes and Dr Holly Birkett of the University of Birmingham, found a supportive environment that does not pass judgement on fathers for taking up the policy and offers influential role models is crucial.
It highlighted a number of barriers to take-up of SPL, which some reports have put as low as 2% of eligible parents. They include a lack of awareness about the policy.
The researchers said: “Based on our evidence-based research it is essential to allow families to make informed choices about how to care for their child/children in the first year after birth or adoption and this will be significantly helped by improving awareness of the policy.”
The researchers say employers can help to increase take-up by enhancing pay and ensuring HR experts are knowledgeable about the policy and can help guide employees to find their way through it.
The complexity of the policy also needs to be tackled. The researchers say: “The policy is a very flexible one, including opportunities to take leave, return to work and then take leave again, but this is not well communicated to employees who perceive the policy as complicated in comparison to more familiar policies around maternity and paternity leave.”
In addition to the organisational and policy barriers, a key ingredient in the low take-up of SPL is social expectations.
“Cultural norms persist in the UK suggesting that mothers will be/should be the primary carers for their children,” say the researchers.
They found mothers were reluctant to give up the full year of parental leave to their partner because they felt they were losing out on time with their baby. While dads may cling on to their role as breadwinner, some mothers feel pressure to be ‘a good mother’ which may involve dominating childrearing duties and, at times, excluding fathers.
Yet, while many women continue to do more childcare and housework than men, it is more difficult for them to progress at work which drives the gender pay gap and contributes to a lifelong loss of earnings for women.
The Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy is leading the push for greater uptake of SPL that started this week and is keen to communicate the benefits of sharing leave. These include greater paternal involvement in childcare, a positive impact on child development and long-term happiness and greater marital stability.
Nikki Slowey, Joint Programme Director of Family Friendly Working Scotland, says: “We know more fathers are sharing the care of children in general and they want more time to bond with a new baby in particular. This usually means fathers continue being more involved in the care – and fun – that goes with raising children, which is good for parents and children alike.
“What’s more, creating more options for fathers means mothers benefit from greater choice in how to balance their own work and home life – mothers don’t have to be the only parent to take time out. This, in turn, is good for businesses because happier employees are more engaged and productive. Shared Parental Leave is definitely something employers should embrace and encourage.”
One couple who have taken SPL are lawyer Gregor Duthie and Amy Glover, a self-employed pre-school music business owner from Glasgow. They took it with their first child who is now three, but may not take it for their second, who is due in May, because their earnings gap now that Amy is self employed makes it financially more difficult.
Amy says she was keen to take it: “If we want our partners to do 50% of parenting then they should get the benefits (and challenges) of that right from the start. It was really important to me that our son developed a secure attachment to both parents. I could tell my husband was going to be a really great dad and that he’d enjoy baby classes and coffee mornings (even if there was often no babychange in the gents’ toilets) so I felt he should get the opportunity to do all that. Three years on we still to everything equally and he does far more than I see other dads doing. Maybe there are a lot of mums who don’t want to give up time out of their year, but there are also a lot of dads who won’t admit they don’t actually want to be stuck at home with a baby!”
Gregor added: “Being in charge of the little day-to-day decisions really boosts your confidence as a parent and you very quickly learn not to sweat the small stuff. You’ll never take your partner for granted, but it works both ways too. Your partner will quickly learn how tiring it is to work full time and then come home to baby. Each one learns the other doesn’t have it easy.”
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