Drew Baxter-Gibson is a dad shaping his leave to fit his family. And his employers are right behind him.
Drew Baxter-Gibson is making the most of Shared Parental Leave (SPL). The policy is designed to be flexible so Drew is getting the best of both worlds when it comes to time with his new son. He’s already taken some extra weeks when his baby Rupert was born in May. And he’ll get the solo parenting experience when he takes some more next year when his partner Fleur returns to work.
His experience threw up many issues that come up time and again when it comes to men taking SPL. It’s easier when there’s a clear company policy and a supportive manager. And it results in a happy dad and a grateful employee.
Drew told us about why he was keen to take Shared Parental Leave and how it’s worked out so far.
What’s your role and what does it involve?
I’m the Wellbeing Lead for Santander in the UK. That means I’m responsible for our wellbeing strategy, aiming to ensure we have the right support for our people spanning Physical, Mental, Financial and Social Wellbeing. I’m also proud to have helped launch and to co-chair Santander’s Mental Wellbeing Network, and to serve as a Trustee Board Director for mental health charity Mind in Bedford, Luton and Milton Keynes.
When did you first think about taking SPL?
My work involves being aware of and helping to shape the many policies we have in place at Santander to support our colleagues, involving flexible working and family leave. I can’t say it’s something I’d actively considered in the past, but as I became more familiar with the policies, I naturally found myself wondering whether it would be right for us as a family.
How did you go about making it happen? How did you approach your employer and what was their reaction?
I approached my manager for his thoughts and to check my understanding of how SPL worked. He was incredibly supportive and encouraged me it was definitely the right thing to do. It was really refreshing and empowering to have that support, and made me feel more comfortable about the inevitable conflict we can feel when searching for the right work-life balance. In the end I decided on taking eight weeks SPL initially, with a further eight weeks planned for when my wife returns to work next year.
How did it made your life better/easier?
It was truly the most memorable experience of my life, for being entirely wonderful yet desperately challenging all at once. I’ve always been keenly aware of how fortunate I was to have those first weeks at home, but the point that stands out to me is that after two weeks I was very aware that many dads would be going back to work at that point. I knew I was in no way ready to go back to work, either physically or mentally, and that had I done so I would likely not have been much use as either a husband or employee. It’s made me a keen believer that all dads should have the opportunity to take more statutory time off, as two weeks is simply too short.
Has it made you a better dad?
I hope so. I think being on hand and more equally dividing parenting responsibilities in those early weeks really helps to set the precedent for things moving forwards. Less tangibly, but more importantly, those first few weeks of bonding with my son are invaluable.
Has it made you a better employee?
I’d say the experience definitely made me a more grateful employee. I can easily see how employers offering SPL would benefit from increased engagement, productivity and lower attrition or staff turnover. Feeling like I’m valued as a whole person rather than just an employee really helps me to find the right balance in life and limits how much I feel I need to choose between having a successful career or being the best dad or husband I can be.
Any drawbacks that need to be addressed?
Parental leave policies in the UK are improving but don’t go far enough and the incremental changes have left it being somewhat overcomplicated. It also is positioned too traditionally in that a woman has to ‘give up’ some of her entitlement in order for a dad to take SPL, putting it in direct conflict with ‘mum-guilt’ and the impossible expectations we place on women.
I think we’d be better served if all of the policies were replaced with one new and more generous parental leave policy that said “a baby has been born, wonderful! You have X amounts of week leave you can use however works best for your family”
Have you changed your working pattern since returning to work?
I’m fortunate to be able to work flexibly in a way that works for me, but I certainly take more advantage of this now. I’ll work from home some mornings in order to help my wife get additional rest where possible, or have breaks to look after her own wellbeing.
Advice for any employers wary of Shared Parental Leave as a policy?
It can only benefit employers to allow colleagues to choose how to best take leave at this key milestone. As well as how useless I would have been returning after two weeks, it also helps tackle the larger problems of structural gender inequality, which we also know hurts business through a lack of diversity of thought in management and decision making.
Advice for any men considering taking SPL?
We have so much time in our lives to work and concentrate on our careers, but those first few weeks only happen once, and they disappear so quickly. I’d encourage all men to consider it, not just for themselves but for the support it can give to their partners, and the positive example it sets for your family right from the outset.