Dads missing out on paternity leave

A study in 2018 by the University of Edinburgh estimates that about 78% of Scottish fathers take some leave after the birth of a child, but only 18% take more than a couple of weeks, leaving 22% not taking any time at all. Low-income fathers are even less likely to take meaningful time off, due to financial concerns. The study estimates that only 43% of those with the lowest incomes take any leave after their child is born. A TUC analysis says one in four men who became dads in the last year (2017-18) didn’t qualify for paternity pay because they are self-employed or because they haven’t been in their job long enough.

The Edinburgh research also suggests the business impact this has. It says that companies with higher participation in programmes designed to support working parents have higher employee retention and job satisfaction, which balances out the cost of offering fatherhood benefits.

The researchers analysed data from Growing up in Scotland, a longitudinal survey designed to generate population estimates by tracking the lives of thousands of young children through childhood. They also conducted in-depth interviews with fathers of young children in dual-earner couples and conducted an audit of the benefits employers offer.

Support from colleagues

Many of the fathers in the study wanted to actively parent their children, but they felt that they were able to do so only when their colleagues supported their choices.

Writing in the Harvard Business Review, Alison Koslowski, Professor of Social Policy and Research Methods at the University of Edinburgh, says: “The reality in many organisations is that expectations for female and male employees are still vastly different. While many organisations have programmes to support young mothers — offering them mentoring, back-to-work schemes and maternity replacement cover — this support intent is typically not available to new fathers. As such, fathers are worried about what it might mean for their career prospects if they go against what is normal in their workplace.”

They also heard from many fathers who worried that taking paternity leave would be a significant financial burden. Fathers who felt that their employers supported them as parents — with flexible work schedules, financial and social support during family leave, and other allowances — were more likely to be engaged with their jobs and to stay in them longer than they may have otherwise.

What should employers do?

The researchers say employers need to give fathers need time to attend antenatal appointments, time off for dependents in the case of emergency or sickness and the right to request flexible working.

Koslowski concludes: “The good news is that employers should experience a double benefit from supporting fathers in the workplace: In addition to attracting and retaining talented fathers, they also create opportunities for mothers. As working fatherhood becomes normalised, women are less often penalised for the ways they seek flexible work arrangements to handle childbirth and child care. Because of this, firms with strong policies and cultures supporting working parents should see their gender pay gaps lessen.”

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