How and why to enhance Shared Parental Leave in your firm

New research has just been published looking at how and why companies do or don’t enhance their Shared Parental Leave policies



Landmark research into Shared Parental Leave best practice has just been published. It looks at the factors that make organisations more likely to promote or enhance the policy.

The work, by Birmingham University’s Equal Parenting Project team and supported by the Government Equalities Office, includes a list of recommendations companies can adopt with regard to Shared Parental Leave (SPL). These include sharing case studies, reverse mentoring and reporting SPL take up along with gender pay gap reporting.

Authors Holly Birkett and Sarah Forbes’ previous research has found parents are more likely to want to share care these days. And they have previously identified the two main barriers to men taking Shared Parental Leave: financial issues and a lack of knowledge.

They also point to other research which has shown that a father’s involvement early in a child’s life is associated with positive behavioural outcomes. And where dads take more paternity leave they are more likely to remain involved in family life. Plus their children tend to score higher in academic tests. So there are strong arguments for making it as easy as possible for men to use SPL.

And there’s a negative impact on some mothers who feel they ought to take more leave than they might want to. Plus more equal leave is believed to help close the gender pay gap.

Firms who do enhance shared parental pay do so to attract and retain talent. Shared Parental Leave best practice promotes staff wellbeing and drives equality in the workplace.

Gender imbalance in parental leave policies

According to the report, “The current gender imbalance in parental leave policies and pay can act as a barrier to fathers and parents in same sex couples taking leave, while putting unnecessary pressure on mothers to take longer time out of the workforce than they might otherwise choose to do.

“The research also suggests that a lack of open discussion around caring before birth or adoption, combined with well-established gender norms around childcare, creates a climate in which fathers and parents in same sex couples may feel uncomfortable raising their wish to care with their partner, since they often view Maternity Leave as their partner’s entitlement.”

The research found that the companies most likely to enhance and promote Shared Parental Leave were big organisations competing for millennial talent in the international marketplace.

Organisations that didn’t prioritise SPL tended to have concerns about the expense, sometimes because they already enhanced their maternity package and matching that would be expensive. There was also issues in some firms with a generational divide between staff who wanted equal policies and older board members who didn’t regard it as an issue.

Change initiatives

The report authors drew up a list of change initiatives for companies to consider as part of Shared Parental Leave best practice.

  • Where possible, particularly for larger organisations, enhance SPL offering to the same level as Maternity Leave. If this is not possible, organisations should consider options for enhancing Paternity Leave to offer fathers more time with their children in the first year.
  • Where appropriate, organisations could invest in developing staff and succession planning by covering parental leave periods with short internal secondments advertised across the organisation to support inclusive succession planning and the talent pipeline.
  • Develop a reverse mentoring programme with early career employees mentoring board and Senior Management Team (SMT) members, to help improve intergenerational understanding and integrate changing cultural attitudes around gender and caring.
  • Examine the UK’s emphasis on policies which encourage mothers’ caring by continuing the momentum towards a more gender equal approach to parental leave at Government and organisation level. This could include removing disparities in economic incentives between SPL and other policies.
  • Consider measures to increase transparency such as publishing of family-friendly policies for organisations with 250 employees or more, including parental leave and pay arrangements. Consider implementing voluntary questions within the Gender Pay Gap (GPG) reporting platform for organisations with 250 or more employees on whether or not they enhance their ShPP offering and other parental leave policies.


They also called for firms to improve their communications around SPL. Again they provide a list of policies to adopt.

  • Best practice organisations in each sector could produce case studies of how and why they have promoted and enhanced SPL, highlighting the benefits they have realised.
  • Improve communication of SPL policies to employees, and communicate the benefits of SPL for the family, and particularly for the children using existing research. This may also require improved training for HR staff and line managers around family-friendly policies. This could be as simple as a short outline of each policy for line managers and contact details for more information.
  • Organisations could use previously tested myth-busting messages around SPL to overcome perceived barriers to utilising SPL. For example, messages that clarify that both parents can use SPL simultaneously thus breaking down the myth that parent one must return to work for parent two to use SPL.
  • Encourage organisations, including SMEs, to make use of available tools from government websites and third-sector organisations to better support parents in the workplace, such as CIPD, Working Families, Business in the Community and the Equal Parenting Project. Drawing upon these available resources ensures that it is easier for organisations to promote and enhance policies, especially if they do not have an HR department, for example, easy to implement practices such as parenting groups, example champions etc.
  • Devise a practical toolkit to engage more men nationally and at organisational level in conversations around caring (e.g., Icelandic government’s Barbershop Toolbox; United Nations, 2015).
  • Organisations could consider developing a parents’ and carers’ group, or joining a virtual one with other organisations in order to support parents in the workplace and make them aware of the options available to them.
  • Where appropriate, engage with guidance from the Government Equalities Office (GEO) to develop a voluntary action plan for inclusion in your company’s GPG report and consider inserting an enhanced SPL/ShPP policy in this to show how you are supporting parents to share caring between them.
  • Clearly communicate existing financial incentives for SMEs to encourage organisations to promote policies.
  • SMEs could benefit from specific guidance, underpinned by research, explaining the business benefits of promoting SPL to help encourage more SMEs to support SPL and allay fears about the take-up of SPL

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