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With Father’s Day just around the corner, we focus on Shared Parental Leave, and the impact it has had on men in comparison to women. Although the policy was initially designed to encourage fathers to take more time off with their children, recent studies have shown that only a small percentage of men are utilising this right.

In part 2 of our Shared Parental Leave series, we take a closer look at the potential reasons why fathers may be reluctant to take SPL, and what employers must do to address and amend the issue.

Narrowing the gender pay gap could present solutions

Research has shown that men may be reluctant to take time off work due to financial reasons. Unless the employer offers a contractual pay scheme during shared parental leave, which exceeds the legal minimum statutory payment, the father will only be paid £139.58 per week (the current rate). In families where the father is the main earner, this may represent an impossibly large drop in pay.

It’s no secret that women are on average paid less than men, with the gap between the two genders’ wages opening up around the age most women have children. A recent enquiry by the Commons Women and Equalities Committee found that pay differentials were partly a result of women continuing to take the majority of responsibility for childcare, thus putting their careers on hold.

Earlier this year, a group of 44 cross-party MPs called for a statutory entitlement to three months of non-transferable paid parental leave for fathers or second parents, at the same rate as maternity pay. They also say payments for the first four weeks of paternity pay should match those of the first four weeks of maternity pay, which is currently paid at a higher rate.

It is argued that the proposed policy change would be a significant step forwards both in practical terms and in shifting cultural attitudes and that the Government’s current policy of shared parental leave does not work.

The letter stated: “As well as enabling fathers to play a more active role in childcare from an early stage, an effective policy on [shared parental leave] is absolutely essential to closing both the employment gap and the gender pay gap for women in the workplace by giving working families more choice and flexibility and supporting mothers who want to return to work early.”

How can employers be more father-friendly?

According to the Trade Union Congress, the majority of employed fathers with young children (over 90 percent) work full-time. Yet the Working Families study showed that fathers want more flexibility in the workplace, so alternatives to the traditional 9-5 structure will appeal to many working fathers. This approach can also significantly cut costs for businesses, particularly with employers who have embraced mobile working, reporting a reduced need for office space, decreases in travel costs and increased productivity.

Employee well-being is also likely to improve: a study by the CIPD shows that flexible workers are much less likely to report being under excessive pressure than people who don’t work flexibly, with 29 percent of flexible workers saying they are under excessive pressure every day or once or twice a week compared with 42 percent of those who don’t work flexibly.

However, take note, according to Working Families, twice the number of fathers compared to mothers believe that those who work flexibly are viewed as less committed and that working flexibly is likely to have a negative impact on their career. In addition, statistics show that 50 percent of fathers thought that taking shared parental leave would be perceived negatively by their employer.

Employers that choose to put flexible working higher up their corporate agenda need to ensure that they promote it positively. To combat negative perceptions, consider putting in place a programme to help raise awareness of what’s on offer for both working fathers and mothers, potentially highlighting real life examples of where flexible working is having a positive impact well. This will also help show you are supportive of all those who elect to exercise these rights.

Although change is never an overnight occurrence, taking these first steps will be a positive start towards ensuring that fathers also share in the joys of child-rearing and parental responsibilities.

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