The benefits of equal parental leave

Law firm Jenner & Block talks about its equal parental leave policy and why it is good for both employees and employers.

uk statutory parental leave inadequate


How do you create a more equal playing field in law, particularly when it comes to senior associate positions?

Parental leave is a good starting place, both when it comes to equality at work and at home. With more dads wanting to start parenthood off on a more equal footing and unwilling to sacrifice bonding with their children from the start, equal parental leave policies are a key policy that sets a firm out from its rivals.

That’s why law firm Jenner & Block brought in its parental leave policy last January. It offers 20 weeks on full pay to partners and 22 weeks to mums giving birth [to allow for recovery time]. Since then it has been taken up by 100% of eligible parents.

The policy was driven by Christine Braamskamp, managing partner of the firm’s London office, who made a strong business case for it. Previously paternity leave was just two weeks.

The impact of parental leave policy on equality at work and at home

Due to the nature of the profession, a playing field where parental leave is so uneven between men and women means women often struggle to get their career back on track after becoming pregnant and taking leave. In a highly competitive world, particularly when it comes to senior positions, women who take breaks often see their career slowing down in the lead-up to maternity leave, during maternity leave and in the weeks after they go back. They often get taken off the big cases and are not offered the same opportunities when they come back. Many leave as a result, with implications for recruitment budgets.

“We felt there needed to be recognition that men too become parents and may want to take some weeks off either alongside their partner or after their partner goes back to work,” says Braamskamp. She adds that in addition to experiencing family life from the get-go, the policy means men experience the kind of hurdles women typically go through to get back to work after a break and may be more understanding of some of the problems, affecting the views of senior leadership in due course. She thinks having a more shared experience of parenthood will also result in less tensions in their relationships and potentially less maternal gatekeeping as dads feel more confident about their roles as fathers.

Why equal parental leave matters

Braamskamp was inspired by forward-thinking firm Ashurst, but says she doesn’t think equal parental leave policies are common in law. Firms may enhance their Shared Parental Leave [SPL], but SPL excludes families where partners are self employed.

The policy applies to anyone with over a year’s service at Jenner & Block and the leave has to be taken in one chunk for practicality reasons. Braamskamp thinks take-up has been high due in part to different generational attitudes to family life. “We need to have our eyes open as employers. There is a generation coming through that has a more comfortable relationship with taking time for themselves and their families,” she says.

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