Mounting Pressure to Modernise Family Leave Policies

There is a mounting pressure on Government and organisations to modernise their parental-leave policies as families demand greater freedom around how they organise work and childcare. Evidence shows that fathers are increasingly interested and expect to have greater involvement in their children’s upbringing, and mothers are keen to share childcare responsibilities with their partner to enable them to pursue other endeavours including their careers. Parents may experience hampered wellbeing if workplace policies continue to perpetuate traditional gender roles, reproducing stereotypes of mother as childcarer and father as breadwinner.

Parents Demanding Choice

Parents are demanding better support to enable them to raise their family in the way they choose, calling for family policies to modernise, and for employers and wider society to become more accepting of these decisions. Some fathers have become advocates for the uptake of shared parental leave and paternity leave, speaking publicly about the benefits of spending more time with their young children:

Watch the video below to hear Chris Stevenson explain his experiences of the value of taking up 6 months paid paternity leave, as offered by his company Aviva. In 2017 Aviva became the UK’s first large employer to offer equal paid paternity and maternity leave (Source – BBC News).

Click to read Yash Puri about some of the benefits and challenges faced by fathers taking paternity leave: “‘[Companies] are struggling how to understand to support the men. I don’t think men know themselves they can do this,’ says Mr Puri, who is a partner at IT consultancy FIS” (Source – BBC News).

Mothers are also calling for better support to enable them to maintain their employment and be taken seriously in the workplace. Changes demanded include affordable childcare, better policies around parental leave and flexible working, and an end to motherhood discrimination:

Watch the video below to hear Adeline Willis calling for MPs to recognise the voices of “the army of working mums” (Source – BBC News).

Click to read about Joeli Brearley’s campaign Pregnant then Screwed, aiming to “end the motherhood penalty”. 

Policy Needs To Catch Up

Recent comparisons made between UK practice and the rest of the world is contributing to the mounting pressure on the UK to catch up and modernise. Unicef’s 2019 report titled ‘Are the worlds richest countries family friendly?’ found that Sweden, Norway, Iceland, Estonia and Portugal offer the best family-friendly policies among 31 rich countries with available data. Yet the UK, among others including Switzerland, Greece, Cyprus and Ireland, operate the least family-friendly policies.

In early 2020 it hit the headlines that Finland was working towards greater equality in terms of role-division within families by equalising parental leave enabling mothers and fathers to take the same amount of time. This announcement was shared widely through social media by interested parents, campaigning organisations, and researchers.

What Are Employers Doing? 

Employers are paying increasing amounts of attention to their own policies around shared parental leave/paternity leave. Some UK companies have equalised parental leave policies but this is far from commonplace. In January 2020 Unicef UK announced equalised parental leave for all employees stating that the new policy:

“acknowledges the equal role of each caregiver in raising a child, shifting the focus away from gender, sexual orientation or length of service, and puts it on the child and the time spent with them during those early moments”.

Others are looking at ways to enable employees to work more flexibly around their childcare and wider care responsibilities.

However, employers need to ensure that parents feel comfortable taking up these offers and are assured that it will not negatively affect their career. A recent broadcast on BBC Radio 4 interviewed parents who had taken up shared parental leave and found that some fathers felt more ‘exposed’ at work when requesting leave. One father tells of feeling like he was “putting a spanner in the works” and “causing a problem”:

Click to hear BBC Radio 4 show Sharing the Baby. It explores the issues with and experiences of taking shared parental leave in the UK. 

Having access to family-friendly policies and feeling supported balancing wider responsibilities outside of the work place leads to some feeling that the company care about them and their families.

It is not just about increasing parents’ wellbeing – changing workplace policies to enable parents more freedom and choice around how they raise their families could contribute towards greater gender equality. Modernising family policies around parental leave will enable parents more choice around their work and childcare arrangements, facilitating fathers to choose to be more engaged with childcare especially in the early years, and mothers to be taken more seriously in the workplace.

Our Project: Breadwinning Mums, Caregiving Dads: Transforming Gender in Work and Childcare

We are excited for our project’s findings to further contribute to these discussions, collating evidence of the division of labour, satisfaction and experiences of challenges among traditional, role-reversed and equal sharing parenting models. The findings will expose ways to better support parents’ decisions around work and childcare through workplace policies and legislation around paternity and shared parental leave. Ultimately, this project seeks to identify the means to create more balanced, fulfilling lives for both men and women – enabling choice.

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