Blog: Shared parental leave – we’re still playing catch-up

Alan Price, CEO at BrightHR and father to two young boys, wonders how the problems with SLP can be addressed.

problems with shared parental leave


Shared parental leave: it’s something that is still playing catch up to the changing attitudes toward equality.

The rather old-fashioned notion that childcare should mostly be the responsibility of the mother is falling out of favour. And it’s about time too.

I’m a father of two and there’s nothing I love more than spending time with my boys. I would never think of it as my wife’s job to bring them up. It’s something we do together. A shared responsibility. A chance to create precious memories as a family.

Most of the fathers I know also feel the same way. But even so, I still don’t know many men who take shared parental leave.

Unfortunately, it seems that there is still a cultural stigma around new fathers taking time off to spend with their newborn child. For instance, only a quarter of eligible fathers took time off following the birth of a child in 2020. Just 176,000 men took paternity leave in 2020-21, compared to 652,000 women who took maternity leave over the same period.

Considering childcare responsibilities should fall equally to both parents, these are rather shocking statistics. But why is this happening? Is it because fathers-to-be don’t feel comfortable telling their boss that they’d like to take leave? Maybe companies aren’t doing a very good job in communicating this right, or don’t appear to outrightly promote it to their staff? Or could it be down to money?

Unfortunately, despite a lot of good work having been done in this area, there is still a gender pay gap that exists. Perhaps this is the reason why it is typically women who take parental leave – especially as we are currently facing a cost-of-living crisis like no other.

Ultimately, I believe it falls on employers to challenge this archaic way of thinking. They need to firstly look to implement shared parental leave and then, secondly, ensure that staff are aware of what a viable option it is.

The right to take shared parental leave needs to be communicated and encouraged at every level. And the more companies do this, the better the benefits for new parents. Mainly that both parents have the chance to bond with their new baby, and their careers will not suffer as a result.

Crucially, we’ll likely see far more equality in leadership positions too. In the past, women having to take more time off for caring responsibilities has contributed to the so-called motherhood penalty, resulting in loss of earnings and greater difficulty in climbing to more senior positions.

Companies are becoming more and more aware of changing beliefs and attitudes towards childcare. For example, Volvo recently implemented 24 weeks’ paid parental leave for both parents.

Personally, I think we need to look to forward-thinking countries such as Sweden, Iceland, and Lithuania for inspiration so that we can perfect our own system here in the UK. But with employees placing a higher priority on equality and work/life balance these days, I’m sure that the take up of shared parental leave will grow in popularity, and parents will be confident about speaking up and asking for it…

Read more:

Laing O’Rourke launches inclusive parental leave policy

Reddico is trying to change the way we think about work

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