A new report highlights the factors that make some organisations more likely to promote Shared Parental Leave.
A lack of open discussion around caring before birth or adoption, combined with well-established gender norms around childcare, creates a climate in which fathers and parents in same sex couples may feel uncomfortable raising their wish to share care with their partner, according to a new report on Shared Parental Leave.
The report, by Birmingham University’s Equal Parenting Project team and supported by the Government Equalities Office, says that partners often view maternity leave as their partner’s entitlement and that this may deter them from suggesting Shared Parental Leave [SPL]. SPL was introduced in April 2015 and has consistently had very low take-up, with campaigners saying it needs a major overhaul with a focus on guaranteed leave for fathers.
The report looks at the factors that make organisations more likely to promote or enhance the policy and includes a list of recommendations companies can adopt with regard to SPL.
Authors Holly Birkett and Sarah Forbes’ previous research has found parents are more likely to want to share care these days and the report lists employers’ perceptions that millennials are looking for more gender neutral policies. The authors have also previously identified the two main barriers to sharing leave: finances and a lack of knowledge.
The report highlights the benefits to both partners of SPL, including dads being more likely to share childcare as children get older and women not having to shoulder the bulk of the care with all the consequences for their careers. SPL also means women aren’t forced to take longer on maternity leave than they would like because they are worried about putting their children in formal childcare when they are very young.
The benefits for employers centre on attraction and retention of talent. More equal policies also promote staff wellbeing.
According to the report: “The current gender imbalance in parental leave policies and pay can act as a barrier to fathers and parents in same sex couples taking leave, while putting unnecessary pressure on mothers to take longer time out of the workforce than they might otherwise choose to do.”
The research found that the companies most likely to enhance and promote Shared Parental Leave were big organisations competing for millennial talent in the international marketplace.
Organisations that didn’t prioritise SPL tended to have concerns about the expense, sometimes because they already enhanced their maternity package and matching that would be expensive. The report also highlights a generational gap between millennial workers who want more equal policies and older managers who don’t see shared care as a big issue.
The report’s authors suggest areas for companies to consider regarding SPL. For larger organisations, it suggests enhancing SPL to the same level as maternity leave. If this is not possible, the authors recommend enhancing paternity leave to offer fathers more time with their children in the first year.
They suggest that , where appropriate, organisations could invest in developing staff and succession planning by covering parental leave periods with short internal secondments advertised across the organisation to support inclusive succession planning and the talent pipeline. Another idea is to develop a reverse mentoring programme with early career employees mentoring board and Senior Management Team (SMT) members, to help improve intergenerational understanding and integrate changing cultural attitudes around gender and caring.
And they say the Government needs to review policies that encourage mothers not to share leave, for instance, removing disparities in economic incentives between SPL and other policies.
And, interestingly, in light of concerns that gender pay gap reporting is to be suspended again, it calls on the Government to consider measures to increase transparency, such as publishing of family-friendly policies for organisations with 250 employees or more, including parental leave and pay arrangements, and adding voluntary questions within the gender pay gap reporting platform on whether or not they enhance pay for those taking SPL and other parental leave pay policies.
The report also calls for sustained communications around SPL, including:
● Best practice organisations publishing case studies of how and why they have promoted and enhanced SPL, highlighting the benefits they have realised.
● Improving communication of SPL policies to employees, which communicate the benefits of SPL for the family, and particularly for the children’s wellbeing and educational attainment based on existing research. The report says this may also require improved training for HR staff and line managers around family-friendly policies. This could be as simple as a short outline of each policy for line managers and contact details for more information.
● Using previously tested myth-busting messages around SPL to overcome perceived barriers to utilising SPL. For example, messages that clarify that both parents can use SPL simultaneously breaks down the myth that parent one must return to work for parent two to use SPL.
● Encouraging organisations, including SMEs, to make use of available tools from government websites and third-sector organisations to better support parents in the workplace, such as Working Families, Business in the Community and the Equal Parenting Project. The report says drawing upon these available resources ensures that it is easier for organisations to promote and enhance policies, especially if they do not have an HR department, for example, easy to implement practices such as parenting networks, parenting champions etc.
● Devising a practical toolkit to engage more men nationally and at organisational level in conversations around caring
● Considering the development of a parents’ and carers’ group, or joining a virtual one with other organisations in order to support parents in the workplace and make them aware of the options available to them.
● Where appropriate, engaging with guidance from the Government Equalities Office (GEO) to develop a voluntary action plan for inclusion in your company’s GPG report and consider inserting an enhanced SPL/ShPP policy in this to show how you are supporting parents to share caring between them.
● Clearly communicating existing financial incentives for SMEs to encourage organisations to promote policies. It adds that SMEs could benefit from specific guidance, underpinned by research, explaining the business benefits of promoting SPL to help encourage more SMEs to support SPL and allay fears about the take-up of SPL.