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Alasdair Jones has three children. When his first was born five years ago, he took two weeks paternity leave plus two extra weeks off unpaid and reduced his working days to four a week. For his second child, born in Australia two and a half years ago, he took two weeks off. But this time round he has been able to take four months of Shared Parental Leave on full pay.
Alasdair, who has been working for LSE as Assistant Professor in Qualitative Research Methodology since August 2013, says he really wanted to make use of the SPL offered by the School. “I went part time with my first child to be around for him more so it made sense to share the early period of my daughter’s life,” he says.
He has taken his leave in one solid block. In large part this is because of LSE’s innovative research leave policy which means any academic who takes more than 16 weeks’ leave is entitled to one term of research leave. This means they can catch up on research work with no teaching commitments. Alasdair says this is invaluable. “You can’t just hand things over if you have a research project to do or if there are articles you need to write and there are conferences to go to. Having a chunk of time without teaching is priceless. Without it you would lose ground in your research. It’s a big incentive to take SPL, particularly for someone like me who hasn’t yet gone through ‘Major Review’ (LSE’s probation process for academics) and where you are judged on your research output,” he states.
Alasdair says LSE – who won Workingmums.co.uk’s Top Employer Award for Best for Dads, was very supportive, helping him and his wife negotiate the complexity of SPL. “It’s a bit of a minefield working out how you do it between two different organisations, how you cut short Maternity Allowance and so on. LSE was still trying to get on top of the legislation, but they guided us through it,” says Alasdair. “They were a key liaison point for us.”
They also explained SPLIT days, through which Alasdair will be able to do up to 20 days of paid work while he is on SPL so he can keep up to date with developments in his research field and afford to pay for extra childcare to do so.
Time for the children
Alasdair is enjoying having time with his daughter, but admits that since he has two other children it’s quite busy. He says there are often not many dads at playgroups and he can feel excluded. He has had the odd “funny look”, but mainly he just gets on with looking after the kids. He adds that doing SPL has helped him empathise with women more over the trials and tribulations of looking after small children.
His oldest son is at school and Alasdair does most drop-offs and pick-ups and his middle daughter is at a childminder’s two and a half days a week. His wife, who used to work for the Fawcett Society, currently works from home or from a cafe so is often around. Alasdair adds that it would be much harder if his wife was working full time and faced a long commute. “She is around when things get fraught around dinner time,” he says.
Alasdair will go back to work in March and realises it is going to be a bit of a shock to the system. He went back to full-time hours in 2011 in the job before his LSE post. The family are thinking of getting more childcare for the younger children when he returns and Alasdair plans to keep doing as many drop-offs as he can. “LSE are very flexible too. They have been really good and I am really proud of their policies. They are quite exceptional and should be recognised as such. All my friends are impressed by what they offer,” he says. He’d like to see the School have a stronger voice in advocating the social benefits of supporting dads taking time off to care for their children. “It makes sense since we specialise in social sciences that we should be more explicit in promoting research which backs up the wider familial and societal benefits,” he says.
Alasdair is keen to promote those benefits and is concerned that one consequence of extending SPL to grandparents may be that it means fewer incentives for dads to take time off – indeed he’d prefer the ‘use it or lose it’ style of leave for dads favoured in parts of Scandinavia. He thinks it could also lead to both parents feeling they have to hurry back to work as soon as possible. “I think ideologically it is a concern. It is formalising an informal economy. I think there need to be stronger incentives for dads to take leave, perhaps by promoting the benefits of greater equality. And employers need to encourage it rather than it just being a policy they have on their books. I feel LSE is there for its employees in that sense and I do feel I am more likely to stay at LSE as a result. It feels like they support their staff, that it is a reciprocal relationship.”