Baby steps towards parenting equality

When I was growing up in a market town in Somerset, dads went to work and provided, and mums looked after the house and made sure everyone was fed.  We didn’t know any gangsters, so my dad was the first person I knew who had a Carphone (back when The Carphone Warehouse seemed like the obvious name for a business).

He was a surveyor, out on the road in Somerset – calling in his reports over the phone to be typed up in the office. But despite the technology there never seemed any danger of being ‘always on’, technology was an enabler.

In fact, my dad even had flexible working – he scheduled his own diary of house surveyor visits and frequently made his schedule fit the away sports matches my brother and I were involved in on Wednesdays.

30 years on I can look back and appreciate that he had the type of hands on involved parenting opportunity that many men today are striving to achieve.

Flexible working and Paternity Leave initiatives are bound up together. They both represent potential opportunities to support the desire of a new generation of men to have greater involvement in raising their children and by doing so to move towards equality of opportunity in the home and the workplace for both genders.

There’s a long way to go to normalise equality of choice when it comes to parenting but on International Men’s Day it’s good to reflect on some of the key milestones towards parenting equality.

Key Milestones

  • 1999 Set up of the Fatherhood Institute – “a great dad for every child”
  • 2003 Statutory Paternity Leave

In 2001, Gordon Brown included men’s right to paternity leave in his Budget and, from 2003, male employees received paid statutory paternity leave for the first time.

  • 2011 Additional Paternity Leave

Fathers were given the right to take six months statutory paternity leave while their partners returned to work, in effect taking the place of the mother at home.

  • 2014 Flexible Working Rights

The right to request flexible working was extended to all UK employees with at least 26 weeks’ service with the same employer on 30 June 2014.

  • 2015 Shared Parental Leave

Shared Parental Leave allows you to share up to 50 weeks’ parental leave and 37 weeks’ pay with your partner. Each parent can take up to three blocks of leave, more if their employer allows, interspersed with periods of work.

  • 2017 Aviva set the bar high for parental leave

From November 2017 Aviva became the first UK firm to offer up to one year of leave, of which 26 weeks’ is at full basic pay for each parent employed by the company within the first 12 months of a child’s arrival.

  • 2018 NZ Prime Minister takes Maternity Leave

Jacinda Arden took 6 weeks of maternity leave while in office and then her partner, a TV presenter, became a stay-at-home dad to baby Neve, a great example of showing that no job is too big for spending time with your children.

When they became the first to offer 9 months full pay parental leave.

More to be done

I was amazed to discover that paid paternity leave has only been around since 2003 in the UK and even 15 years on, when a child is born the dad (or the other parent or partner) gets just two weeks statutory paternity leave paid at £148.68 per week, less than half of minimum wage. 

Shared parental leave uptake is very low:

Analysis by the University of Birmingham found only 9,200 new parents (just over 1% of those entitled) took shared parental leave in 2017-18. That increased to 10,700 in the financial year 2018-19.

Just as additional leave suffered too

“Just 1.4% of new fathers taking it in 2012-13. In 2011-12, the first year the scheme was in operation, just 0.8% of eligible dads took advantage of it.”

What can be done

Two things need to be addressed

  1. Financial constraints – Fathers are much more likely to already be earning more than their partners and therefore find it harder to take leave at statutory rates
  2. Cultural constraints – the question of where society, employers and men perceive they belong. Too often we casually default to assume men to be the main breadwinners and women as the primary carers.

The Labour party pledge in 2015 to double the length and pay of statutory paternity leave had potential to be a big step in the right direction https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-politics-31253409. but has sadly disappeared to be replaced by increased maternity leave – to find out why that is problematic you’ll need to read this https://www.daddilife.com/labour-maternity-and-men/

Moves around the fringes of government are important indications as to which way the wind is blowing – even if parliamentary time seems taken up with other activity…

October 2018

In October 2018 the government announced that it planned to consult on a bill that would require large employers to publish their parental leave package. Read more here

July 2019

Helen Whately, Conservative MP for Faversham and Mid Kent a introduced the flexible working bill, to make all jobs flexible by default unless the employer has a sound business reason why particular hours in a particular place are required. Read more here about what this #FlexforAll bill is all about.

Some good moves but in the UK we remain a way away from the gold standard of well paid, protected parental leave for fathers.

Why does parental leave matter?

Men Gain Empathy & Awareness of Bias

“Would my job be safe? What would it mean for my career? How would it impact my team?” Then, he adds: “It hit me like a freight train. These are worries that women in the workplace have been facing for generations”.

Source: FT – Time off for new fathers raises bias awareness

Not only that, but dads accessing parental leave has significant and long-lasting benefits towards equality in the household.

In households where men were given the opportunity to use this benefit, fathers’ daily time in household work was 23 percent higher, long after the leave period ended. 

Source: Council on Contemporary Families

Well paid protected leave is a key part of breaking cultural assumptions which perceive childcare as a woman’s job, it supports equality of choice in families and is good for mental health, relationships and women’s income prospects.

On International Men’s Day we should be setting the bar much higher than 2 weeks of below minimum wage leave. It does nothing for families, for fathers or for mothers.

This is what society and business needs:

  1. Day one flexible working as a default position for all.
  2. Equalise parental leave provisions for new parents.
  3. Provide men with paternity coaching before and after their paternity leave.
  4. Identify and support senior fatherhood role models.
  5. Create, support and persevere with fatherhood community initiatives in the workplace.

guest post by Ian Dinwiddy founder of Inspiring Dads

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