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Rethinking shared parental leave

It’s been a year since shared parental leave was introduced, and the early indicators are that take-up is very low at 1% of men in the workplace. As the new regime is in its infancy, it is too soon to assess the success or failure of shared parental leave, particularly as I suspect that employers offering enhanced pay will have experienced greater participation.

It is not too early however to start the debate on whether sharing maternity leave is the right approach in the first place. If fathers (and partners) are to be encouraged to play an active part in the caring of a child in the first year, then why predicate the rights to do so on the mother’s rights?shared parental leave

Currently, a father has a right to two weeks’ paternity leave but in terms of the more substantial rights, a mother has to relinquish her maternity rights in order to concert the balance of leave and pay into shared parental leave. This then can be taken by both the mother and father. The problem is that many mothers would love their partners to play active role in child caring but are not prepared to give up their rights to make this happen.

Is to too radical to give fathers a freestanding right to baby leave irrespective of the plans of the mother? Not for some organisations. Facebook recently announced that they were extending their parental leave policy for to cover four months of paid baby leave for all new parents, no matter their gender or where in the world they live. They did this in order to become the employer of choice for those with families, and because research shows that when working parents take time to be with their newborns, outcomes are better for the children and families. Facebook proudly announced that they believe that fathers and mothers alike deserve the same level of support when they are starting and growing a family.

Obviously cost needs to be factored in because additional rights of this nature will not come cheaply. But is this a price worth paying to achieve equality for fathers? In my view it is. Progressive policies that quash stereotypes, and treat the family journey as a gender neutral one will pay dividends when it comes to attracting and retaining talent. And following the Facebook approach, better outcomes for children and families makes for better outcomes with employees. So I would drop the shared approach in favour of independent rights for fathers as balanced rights will drive equality in the workplace.


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