Santander banker Colin Woolliscroft enjoyed taking Shared Parental Leave. And the benefits have lasted.
A year ago Colin Woolliscroft, Head of Commercial Direct at Santander, was preparing to take six weeks off work – four weeks of it Shared Parental Leave. He couldn’t have known then just how vital that time was to prove.
He explains, “Shared Parental Leave was amazing for so many different reasons. It’s been easier to get through 2020 knowing 2019 was an incredible year.”
Colin’s son Seb was born in December 2018. He arrived almost seven weeks premature. A combination of Santander’s generous paternity leave policy that offers double the statutory fortnight plus understanding line managers meant Colin was able to navigate the stressful weeks his partner and baby were in hospital and still get time as a dad when they came home.
But he was determined to do more. He wanted to take Shared Parental Leave (SPL). He admits he’d never really thought about it until an acquaintance took it and returned from his time off glowing about it. That speaks to the importance of role models in normalising working dads taking time with their offspring. The importance of which was only reinforced by the next parts of Colin’s story.
His experience of applying for SPL is typical for many working dads. He explains, “I had to get through two big hurdles to actually take it.
“Firstly, the policy itself can be incredibly confusing. I’m aware a lot of men know about the policy but when they look into it they just get stumped.
“Secondly, there’s the perception. I was initially really, really nervous about asking for SPL. I knew it’d be approved because it had to be. But I was really worried, as an ambitious young leader, how my commitment might be judged.
“I got promoted in this period and I therefore ended up speaking to three different senior leaders, each my line manager at the time, about taking SPL. I got the same formal response from each, but the soft responses were really quite different. One was especially positive and it stood out. They made the point that I was the first person to ask for SPL but that they were open and willing to learn.”
That’s a huge lesson for companies dealing with SPL. Employees often understand that it’s unusual but line managers have a huge responsibility to be encouraging. And it’s a potential learning point for all involved.
Once the time was booked the family decided to use it for a holiday of a lifetime in the USA. But with a 10-month-old baby in the party it wasn’t just a great experience, it was a chance for Colin to become the dad he wanted to be.
He explains, “I was able to give Seb all of myself. I’m sure many working dads recognise that even when you’re at home you’re not always entirely present – it can be difficult to separate the two when you’re thinking about work or dealing with an email. On Shared Parental Leave I spent weeks with him being fully present.
“And he got to see the best of us – not running around doing our jobs or mowing the lawn. We were relaxed, all of us seeing America for the first time.”
And it had other benefits. “The bit we’d not really thought about was that my wife Louise and I had never actually spent that length of time together. It wasn’t just great having six weeks with Seb, it was great having that time with Louise too.”
And that space allowed Colin to appreciate something many men notice once they’ve done SPL – that he needed to do more. “Day to day tasks were already pretty well shared in our house. But what I hadn’t appreciated is that shared parenting is about more than just dividing the nappy changes or doing the washing equally. I now understand the mental load. I was in danger of falling into that trap where I’d always ask my wife what Seb was having for his next meal. But now I try to do just as much planning ahead, thinking about what he’ll eat or wear or what equipment we’ll need when we go out. That was one of the big learnings from taking SPL.”
That makes him a better dad. The confidence he gained from having that time with Seb, and perhaps particularly because he was on the road for his SPL having to occasionally improvise as anyone taking a baby abroad has to, has bettered his bond with Seb. “There’s no facade now. If I’m with Seb I’m not thinking ‘what would a great dad do?’ I’m just being myself, I’m a more genuine parent.”
And that attitude carries over to Colin’s work making him a better Santander employee. “I came back from SPL far more myself,” he says. Before becoming a dad Colin was motoring through the career gears. But he admits that when he got to a certain level he was almost acting the role of manager, behaving how he thought a manager ought to. After SPL he reckons he’s more authentic. He’s tapping into exactly the skills and attitude that got him to his current level in the first place.
And by being more open and honest about his own circumstances his team members are more comfortable talking to him about theirs. Issues can be addressed before they become problems.
And he’s endeavouring to be a ‘noisy parent’ at work. That has included turning up to a Zoom meeting with Seb on his shoulders!
More dads have taken SPL because Colin has spoken up about his experience. But he reckons he’s more to do. He wants to wear the badge of ‘working dad’ more openly. And he’s keen to reach out to folk who aren’t dads or dads-to-be, including mums, to explain more thoroughly the benefits of SPL to himself and to the organisation.
By talking about the kinks in the system that need to be ironed out he’s hopefully making the route easier for other dads. But by so enthusiastically sharing the joys and the benefits of SPL he’s already encouraging more men down that road.