Shared Parental Leave: how to increase take-up and gender equality

British Dads Exhibition


Dads would be significantly more likely to take Shared Parental Leave in the UK if more of their peers took it and if it was a standalone entitlement, according to a researcher speaking at an event on working dads yesterday.

Dr Katherine Twamley from University College London’s Institute of Education was speaking at Advancing parental leave equality for fathers, an event organised by UCL and the Australian organisation Parents at Work. The event was accompanied by a photography exhibition “Swedish Dads” by Johan Bävman.

Dr Twamley’s research is based on work with around 900 parents. The preliminary findings show university-educated parents were more likely to take SPL, that white parents were more likely to take it than BAME parents, that many parents wrongly thought they were not eligible for it, that line manager support was important and that employers often tethered enhanced pay to the first six months after childbirth when many dads preferred to take leave later in the year to allow the mother to recover from the pregnancy and to breastfeed. Both mums and dads were worried about the impact of taking SPL on the dad’s career, thinking the impact would be worse than for a mum since it was more unusual for dads to take time out.

Dr Twamley’s research also found that just 8.4% of eligible parents said they intended to take SPL, but 43% said they would take SPL if it was an individual entitlement rather than something mums chose to transfer to their partner. Some 54% said they would take the leave if it was more normalised and their peers also took it. Some 47% who thought they were not eligible were in fact eligible.

A big factor preventing parents taking leave was finances – 51% said it didn’t make financial sense for them to take the leave. Dr Twamley compared parental leave in the UK with Sweden. Although the UK had longer maternity leave, it was very poorly paid compared to Sweden which offered three months on 80% of pay and three months at 80% pay for dads as well as 300 days of well paid shared leave.


The event was introduced by Professor Margaret O’Brien of UCL’s Thomas Coram Research Unit who drew attention to the international parental leave network and gave an overview of the different types of leave in countries such as Norway and Iceland which have the most progressive policies.

Emma Walsh, CEO of Parents at Work, spoke about the aim of the exhibition of photos of Swedish and Australian dads which accompanied the event, saying it was intended to act “as a beacon for gender equality and for dads taking leave”. The exhibition will go on display to the general public at the Southlands Arts Centre for Father’s Day on 17 June 2018. “We want to encourage a conversation that normalises parental leave for dads,” said Walsh, adding that an important start was to ask dads what leave they were taking when they announced their partner was expecting.

The Swedish ambassador to the UK Torbjörn Sohlström, a dad of three sons, described Sweden’s policy of offering three months paid leave to the minority carer on a use it or lose it basis in addition to leave for the main carer and a shared element. The government was now looking at moving to a model of five months standalone leave for both parents and five months of leave which could be shared between the two – a 5 + 5 + 5 model.

“This kind of parental leave is good for kids – they need their dads; it’s good for dads – they need their kids; and it’s good for society,” he said, adding that the kind of creative, innovative people in their 20s and 30s who would drive economic prosperity were demanding it and would choose where they wanted to live in part due to a country’s parental leave policies.

Photographer Johan Bävman said he started the dads project when he himself became a dad because he was scared he couldn’t live up to the superdad images he saw in the media. He wanted to create some role models he could relate to so he decided to take photos of dads who had taken at least six months’ parental leave with their children. The exhibition has so far toured 35 countries and led to him being commissioned to take photos of Australian dads. The UCL event is the first time the Australian photos have been exhibited.

Bävman says he thinks encouraging dads to take parental leave is vital for creating a more equal society and sustainable companies as well as for reassessing how men see themselves and how society sees men and masculinity. 

Parenthood penalty

Sarah Jackson from Working Families talked about the findings of the organisation’s Modern Families Index 2018. It showed mums and dads were suffering from a general “parenthood penalty” with both putting off applying for promotions and new jobs in order to balance work and family life better. Many parents were working overtime and were overstretched, she said. Some 35% of part-time workers were doing full-time hours and many full timers were doing an extra day a week of overtime. Resentment was building among dads who wanted more flexible working and “human-sized jobs”. One dad commented: “I resent being relegated to the status of breadwinner.”

Jackson called on employers to let people know about their right to SPL, to pay for dads to attend ante-natal appointments to send a message that they supported dads and to train and support line managers. She reiterated the need to untether Shared Parental Pay from the date of a child’s birth so dads could get enhanced pay whenever they chose to take leave.

She added that not supporting dads would mean employers would face similar retention and attraction problems as they have faced with mums. “The parenthood penalty is coming soon to a workplace near you,” she warned.

Best practice

The event also heard from employers who have recognised the need to support dads.  Laurie Benson, HR manager at Spotify described the company’s global parental leave policy which offers six months on full pay for mums and dads. Leave can be taken up to three years after the birth. The expectation is that at least a month at a time is taken on up to three occasions.

The policy was introduced by the Swedish-based company in November 2015 and so far over 400 parents have taken it; 67% are dads. All have returned from leave, showing the policy helps retention of parents as well as increasing engagement and loyalty. There is no qualifying period so parents are entitled to take the leave no matter how long they have been with the company, unless they are still on probation.  The fact that the company is based in Sweden made it easier to offer such a progressive policy. On its global nature, Benson said: “We have a high level of mobility. It feels arbitrary to say that our employees should have different entitlements in different places.”

Siri Nomme who leads diversity and inclusion initiatives across Europe, the Middle East and Asia at law firm Norton Rose Fulbright said her company offered 28 weeks at full pay for those who took SPL. They also sought to engage more with men in the firm through, for instance, Father’s Day events, monthly agile working sessions and parental leave coaching.

Fiona Pargeter, EMEA Head of Diversity & Inclusion at UBS said the finance multinational had matched Shared Parental Pay to its enhanced maternity pay. This offered up to six months on full pay. After a year they had realised the need to untether it. She said UBS had realised it needed to keep telling employees about their rights, support line managers and provide coaching for new dads taking SPL.

*Picture credit: Johan Bävman. has just launched its Recognising Dads at Work e-book which provides best practice examples, case studies and practical information for dads and employers.

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