Normalising Shared Parental Leave

An event last Summer looked at how to encourage dads to take Shared Parental Leave, and how it needed to be normalised.

Fredric Janson, 34, Engineer

An event last Summer, Advancing Parental Leave Equality for Fathers, presented the idea that dads would be more likely to take Shared Parental Leave (SPL) in the UK if more of their peers took it.

Dr Katherine Twamley from University College London’s Institute of Education spoke about her research, amongst 900 parents, at the event organised by UCL and the Australian organisation Parents at Work. The event was accompanied by a photography exhibition “Swedish Dads” by Johan Bävman.

Dr Twamley’s research also found that just 8.4% of eligible parents said they intended to take SPL, but 43% said they would take SPL if it was an individual entitlement rather than something mums had to choose to transfer to their partner. Some 54% said they would take the leave if it was more normalised and their peers also took it.

A major factor preventing parents taking leave was finances – 51% said it didn’t make financial sense for them to take the leave.

Swedish Dads Exhibition

Emma Walsh, CEO of Parents at Work, spoke about the aim of the exhibition of photos of Swedish and Australian dads which accompanied the event, saying it was intended to act “as a beacon for gender equality and for dads taking leave”.

“We want to encourage a conversation that normalises parental leave for dads,” said Walsh, adding that an important start was to ask dads what leave they were taking when they announced their partner was expecting.

Photographer Johan Bävman said he started the dads project when he himself became a dad because he was scared he couldn’t live up to the superdad images he saw in the media. He wanted to create some role models he could relate to so he decided to take photos of dads who had taken at least six months’ parental leave with their children. The exhibition has so far toured 35 countries and led to him being commissioned to take photos of Australian dads.

Bävman says he thinks encouraging dads to take parental leave is vital for creating a more equal society and sustainable companies as well as for reassessing how men see themselves and how society sees men and masculinity.

Best practice

The event also heard from employers who have recognised the need to support dads.  Swedish-based Spotify has a global parental leave policy which offers six months off on full pay for both mums and dads. Leave can be taken up to three years after the birth (for at least a month at a time). The policy was introduced in 2015 and so far over 400 parents have taken advantage of it. 67% of these are dads, and all have returned from leave showing the business benefits of retention, increasing engagement and loyalty.

Another firm which has a progressive parental leave policy is law firm Norton Rose Fulbright. They offer 28 weeks at full pay for those who take Shared Parental Leave. They also ran a range of support initiatives aimed at fathers such as Father’s Day events, monthly agile working sessions and parental leave coaching.

*Picture credit: Johan Bävman. 

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