Destigmatising shared parental leave

Destigmatising shared parental leave
Destigmatising shared parental leave

posted 15 Nov 22

The pandemic has brought varying challenges to the recruitment landscape, especially for women. In an already challenging landscape, with the gender pay gap still in existence and boardrooms dominated by men, the impact of COVID has affected women disproportionately.

Female dominated sectors are rare; on top of this, they have been incredibly heavily impacted by the economic fallout. A report by PWC found that “…more women than men are employed in the sectors hardest hit by COVID-19; women’s job losses outpaced men’s in 2022”. It’s forecasted that there are more challenges to come for women in the workplace, not least because pre-existing gender inequalities have been escalated further by COVID-19.

One of the biggest issues is around maternity leave, paternity leave, and shared parental leave. How can your company ensure that there’s no stigma behind shared parental leave, and make sure the new entitlement is being used effectively?

The times they are a-changing

Whilst they feel like an established part of the working world, paternity leave and shared parental leave are relatively new concepts. Paternity leave is the older of the two, being introduced in 2002. Shared paternity leave was then established in law in 2015, just seven years ago.

Paternity leave was introduced with the idea of sharing the burden of looking after a new-born baby; by giving men time off it allowed them to be more involved in their children. It also, in theory, would allow women more of a choice with regards to staying at home or going to work.

Whilst things are changing, they’re changing slowly. A study by AIG Life found that women are more likely to feel obligated to take time off work to look after babies and children. Results showed that of the 3,000 working individuals surveyed, 74% of women were the primary carer for children or relatives, compared to just 26% of men.

Sharing is caring

There’s research to show that men actually do want to be treated the same as women when it comes to taking parental leave but worry that their career will be impacted. CIPD conducted extensive research with working fathers to assess their experiences and views of shared parental leave. Findings show that, “73% of men surveyed believe there’s a stigma attached to taking extended paternity leave” and “95% of men agreed that workplace culture needs to be transformed to normalise men taking extended paternity leave.”

So what can companies do to break the stigma and encourage the uptake of shared parental leave?

Raise awareness internally and enlist the help of employees

Many people may not be aware of your company’s internal policies and benefits. It’s always a good idea to conduct a temperature check on employee understanding of various policies to decipher knowledge gaps and how you can better communicate internally. To seek buy in, enlist the support of male colleagues who have benefitted from taking parental leave and share their stories to start ‘real conversations’ which are authentic and will have an impact. A McKinsey study found 100% of respondents were glad they took leave and would do so again; so you shouldn’t struggle to find advocates!

Align shared parental leave with other policies

Ensure that your Shared Parental programme is aligned to maternity and paternity packages. If there are discrepancies then this could mean inequalities and makes it extremely difficult to promote a culture of inclusion and gender equality.

A perfect example is the gender pay gap. According to Office for National Statistics (ONS) figures, “median hourly pay for full-time employees was 7.9% less for women than for men in April 2021” (ONS, The gender pay gap). If men’s salaries are higher than women’s, it makes sense for the men to keep working and the women to take time off. Addressing this gap will encourage more sharing of leave, which benefits both the family involved, but also the organisation too.

Offer enhancements

A challenge for parents is often financial stability. By looking at your parental packages and potentially offering enhancements, employees are more likely to feel secure in taking it. If you bring in enhancements, you won’t be alone: the McKinsey study also found that “almost four in ten organizations (38 percent) providing paid leave above the statutory minimum”.

Embed shared parental leave into your culture

Any policy should be aligned to your company’s values and culture and needs to communicated openly and consistently. If a business revolves around presenteeism, then employees are less likely to believe they will be supported and treated equally if they take long periods off work.

Be patient

No matter what approach you decide to take, and how swiftly you implement it, removing the stigma will take time. By completing the above steps, or others you devise yourselves, you can make sure that shared parental leave is a part of your company, and you can let your employees know you’re proud of this. But minds won’t change overnight. All you can do is champion the cause, and then wait patiently for people to get onboard.