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Resistance to the new paternity policies announced this week by Vodafone and Standard Life Aberdeen is ill-conceived and futile
Unlike buses, big companies anouncing new parental pay policies seem to come in twos.
Earlier in the year phone firm O2 and booze behemoth Diageo whacked up their offer to 16 weeks for dads.
Vodafone matched that this week. Employees there can take four months off at full pay during the first 18 months of their baby’s life.
But Vodafone went a little further. Dads (and all non-birthing partners) have the option to work a four day week at full pay for a further six months.
That’s a nice touch. It brings together the issues of paternity leave and flexible working. But it also shows the direction of travel. Vodafone and O2 are fierce rivals. Clearly the former felt it had to outdo the latter in terms of its offer aimed at parents and potential employees.
But when it comes to outbidding the market it perhaps makes sense to look to the finance sector.
And that’s where Standard Life Aberdeen come in. That company was formed when Standard Life and Aberdeen Asset Management merged two years ago. Their official statement says that provided a blank canvas on to which they could throw ideas for their parental policy.
Not sure why it’s taken two years to come up with their offer, if they’d given me a call I could’ve helped them do it much more swiftly. (And for an entirely reasonable consulting fee!) But that fact is it’s a beast. All employees get a year off, 40 weeks will be paid regardless of gender. And the leave can be taken in either one, two or three blocks over their baby’s first two years. It’s not just a huge amount of leave it’s funded and it’s flexible. No wonder they call it ‘market leading’.
Again they haven’t done it out of the goodness of their hearts. It’s about attracting the best talent to their company in order to generate the biggest profits.
Inevitably, once SLA had made their announcement the man scribes of the business pages went to work.
One notable piece in the Glasgow Herald – perhaps no coincidence that Standard Life Aberdeen are headquartered in Edinburgh – claimed men don’t like getting their hands dirty with ‘the really nasty stuff’. And, vitally, it questioned why both parents should get the same entitlement.
The answer of course is that both parents done the baby. Both parents therefore have a role in bringing up baby. (While accepting that’s not possible for all families of course, and sometimes it’s actually better if both parents aren’t involved if their relationship is toxic). The piece went to the nub of our sexist workplace culture in speaking to the idea that a business can manage without a woman taking nine months of maternity leave but would struggle if a man takes the same amount of time out. (Given how few couples work at the same place very few firms would be hit with the double whammy of both parents being off at the same time). And the reverse of that is sexist. That a woman is somehow best suited to parenting while a man doesn’t need or deserve the same stretch of time to bond and just learn the basics never mind the art of parenting.
And that’s why these announcements are so important. Because the more we make it easier for men to take big chunks of paternity leave to be the dad they want to be and allow women to have a genuine choice about when they return to work the more such out of date attitudes will wither.
The equality express is barrelling towards the future. Vodafone are on board, Standard Life Aberdeen are powering the engine. Those questioning the new policies are only going to be left behind.