Hopefully the noise being generated by Twitter’s new CEO, Parag Agrawal, taking paternity leave will encourage more men to take family leave, but it is likely to need more than just well-known and well-paid individuals taking a break from work to focus on their families before the ordinary man on the street feels he can do the same.
It’s all about the money, money, money
In the UK, companies are only obliged to pay £151 per week to employees taking paternity leave, so the reality is that many simply won’t be able to afford to take time off.
While parents here can take shared parental leave (SPL) effectively splitting between them up to 50 weeks of leave and 37 weeks of statutory pay, the uptake of SPL is currently extremely low at around 2%.
Men still tend to be the main breadwinner in most heterosexual households despite the Equal Pay Act being fifty years old so financially it makes sense for them to stay at work. Addressing the gender pay gap is vital if we genuinely want to help men to take more family leave.
Or is it? Many men also report that their reluctance to take family leave stems from outdated gendered views on parenting and work. Harmful gender stereotyping is still prevalent throughout society including in the workplace where these stereotypes often lurk unseen, below the surface of many day-to-day decisions and processes. These stereotypes and assumptions impact on gender parity, which in turn impact the number of men who see taking paternity leave as a risk to landing their next promotion.
Managers should actively encourage employees to take parental leave (and take time off to attend sports days and nativity plays)
Who does it better?
If we are to look seriously at removing gender bias in the wake of International Women’s Day, governments (and businesses) should look to countries such as Lithuania, Hungary and Iceland where both parents have generous leave and pay entitlements or to Sweden where both parents can divide 480 days of leave between them with 90 days off, paid at 80% of their regular salary.
Changing the script
Having enhanced and flexible paternity polices in place is one step towards ensuring both parents take leave but what happens in the workplace day-to-day is just as important. Unconscious assumptions about who does the school run, who takes time off when children are unwell and what jobs can be done part-time must always be challenged.
Managers should actively encourage employees to take parental leave (and take time off to attend sports days and nativity plays). Those managers should be visible about taking parental leave themselves to lead by example and help this to become part of the workplace culture.
According to a Scottish study fathers who feel supported to take family leave are more likely to be loyal to their employers and stay with them longer term showing that everybody benefits through equality.