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Why I Think Equal Parental Leave is So Important

The Gender Pay Gap

There is much talk at the moment about the gender pay gap and the lack of diversity in management positions. And the statistics are not pretty….

The one that really hit home for me was that women would need to work until 10 April 2018 (known as Equal Pay Day) to be paid the same as men in 2017.

That is a pretty depressing statistic when you are a woman working hard at your job. It is so important that we continue to fight to balance these statistics and do everything we can to work towards equality.

Could a better parental leave offering help?

Every bit of research I have read suggests that companies that promote diversity (of all kinds) get the rewards in spades. So why is the equal pay gap still so ugly and why aren’t more women working in management roles? And more importantly, what can we do to make this better?

Here’s one thought — have better statutory parental leave offerings in the UK. Get more men at home for longer after they have a child. Obviously there are loads of other things that could change too.

I think that if you want to encourage more women to take on management roles (and those women want to have kids) you need to have a better system to encourage or permit more men to spend more time at home without it breaking the bank.

The importance of a “real partner”

Sheryl Sandberg (Facebook COO) wrote about this in her book ‘Lean In’ — she said you need to find yourself “a real partner.” She saw this as someone who can truly share the burden of running a home as well as contribute financially through working. This is, of course, if you are lucky enough to have a partner (something that Sandberg herself acknowledges in her later writing, having very sadly lost her husband).

A lot has changed in this respect over the last 30 years. Most men in the previous generation were not to be found anywhere near the delivery room let alone changing nappies! The modern man has very different priorities — they want to be involved in their children’s early childhood as much as possible. And indeed many more women are in the workplace as well. Libby Purves wrote an interesting article in the Times which shows that in 2015, 72% of mothers went out to work (compared to only 50% in 1975).

But why is it that, in the UK in particular, the number of families where men and women take an equal share of time off to look after the kids is so low? Especially if men themselves are keen to be more involved?

In the UK, after giving birth, employed women are entitled a year off work and up to 39 weeks’ pay (6 weeks are paid 90% of their earnings the rest is the statutory amount currently £145.18 (or 90% of their earnings if that is lower). Men are entitled to just 2 weeks at the statutory amount. Hmmm…a bit of a gap?

Shared Parental Leave

So what is the answer? Well, at the moment the UK Government’s answer is Shared Parental Leave. They want to encourage more men to spend more time at home when they have a child by asking their partner to share their leave with them (a simplification but you can read the actual deal here).

This is a good start. But according to Gov.uk, of the 285,000 couples that are eligible each year, take up may be as low as 2%. This means that it is still the norm for women to take as much as 52 weeks off and men to take off only 2 weeks. So the Shared Parental Leave Scheme does not seem to be working — or at least, not getting the uptake intended.

Which leads us back to the gender pay gap — many couples simply cannot afford for their (usually higher-earning) male partner to take any more than two weeks off work as their income would be reduced to at most £145 per week.

How are others doing it?

Way ahead of the Government’s offering, there are some companies who are making innovative changes. They say they are investing in the future of their employees as they see equal parental leave as an investment for the future. They also see it as beneficial for male and female employees and therefore in the long-term interests of the company.

Aviva, for example, introduced a parental leave program that does not discriminate by gender last year. Aviva’s announcement states: “Parents employed by Aviva will be eligible to the same amount of paid and unpaid time off, regardless of gender, sexual orientation or how they became a parent (birth, adoption or surrogacy).”

Ustwo, a digital agency, announced in 2017 that it would offer equal parental leave to its employees who becomes mums or dads — 6 months paid. You can read Co-founder Mills’ inspirational self-realisation blog about this here.

But we shouldn’t have to rely on private companies making changes that are needed across the country. Other countries have much more generous offerings and are seeing a much greater uptake of the schemes.

Sweden (often leading the way on these things) offers parents 480 days of parental leave in total for a child. But importantly each parent has an exclusive right to 90 of those days. So there is a ‘use it or lose it’ element to encourage both parents to spend some time at home.

In Portugal, they offer parental leave (rather than maternity or paternity leave). There is an option to take 120 or 150 consecutive days (150 if the leave is shared). The father can take any part except the initial parental leave which is reserved for the mother which is up to 30 voluntary days of leave before the birth and 6 compulsory weeks after it.

Iceland first implemented a shared parental leave scheme in 2012 but it was shelved during the recession. It has now been reinstated. The leave runs on a ‘use it or lose it’ 3 months for the man or woman as well as an additional period which either partner can use. The statistics show 99% of women took up leave and 92.7% of men.

But why does it matter?

Well, get more men spending more time at home and you get more women back at work sooner. That, in turn, should help towards closing the gender pay gap. Studies have shown that every month a man spends at home can have a positive impact on a woman’s earning potential.

It is also, surely, beneficial for the children who get to spend more time with both their parents from an early age.

By ensuring that parental leave has an element of ‘use it or lose it’ the Government can enable men to be more involved in parenting by providing the vital financial support that is required to make that happen.

Xanthe Kueppers is a co-founder at Pilcro.