Give shared parental leave time and the trickle will become a steady stream, says My Family Care director Ben Black
The harsh summary of shared parental leave (SPL) would be as follows:
- There was a lot of noise
- It was painful for everyone to get their heads round
- It’s been a damp squib
True but completely unfair. Before I explain why let me set out a bit of background. The world would be a million times better – actually $12 trillion better – if we truly had equality. But equality is a long and complex journey. It doesn’t only involve recognising female talent (the best businesses already bend over backwards to help their best women fulfil their potential); it also involves changing the world so that men and women do the jobs they are best suited to rather than the ones society tells them to do.
Put another way, one of the keys to unlocking that vast pool of female talent is getting men to do more of the childcare. In that context Shared Parental Leave is an absolutely fundamental piece of the jigsaw. The SPL journey always had 3 distinct stages:
- Put the legislative framework in place
- Convince employers to get on board – many are still frightened but a notable few (think the big accountants and the likes of Shell and Citi) have embraced the potential of SPL with open arms
- And then convince men that it’s actually OK to take it up and, more importantly, demonstrate that taking some shared parental leave is not career limiting (cue ironic laughter from thousands of working mothers).
It will take time for employers generally to really understand the potential of embracing SPL. Can you really allow people to take chunks of time off here and there is the question? And the second is getting comfortable with the almost certainly small financial cost of equalising the maternity and paternity packages.
My view is that 2016 will start seeing the first few cohorts of men successfully going through SPL. The stories will nearly all be positive and what will start out as a small trickle will turn into a gentle stream over the next few years.
Convincing more men to take it up is a brilliant challenge for employers. It’s all very well for men to beat their chests and go off to a nativity play. Taking a couple of months to be fully involved in their child’s first years, well, that is a whole lot more difficult. Here’s the interesting point. It’s not only men that need pushing along the SPL path. Mothers often have some fairly strident views about not sharing their hard earned leave with their undeserving partner – who’s actually carried the baby after all?! So bringing working mothers into the 21st Century is the other interesting piece of the jigsaw…
We’re working with the Women’s Business Council to understand the level of take up, further explore the barriers and how companies are overcoming them. The aim being to share and promote best practice in overcoming both practical and cultural challenges.
As a starting point we’d really appreciate you taking a couple of minutes to give us a quick snapshot of SPL in your organisation. We’ll be sharing the results at the beginning of April.