Are dads getting a fair enough deal when it comes to parental leave?

Despite a new Shared Parental Leave Law there is still a large disparity between men’s and women’s rights when it comes to being a parent - says one young engineer considering the financial implications of parenthood.

Time off with the baby: can be financially disadvantageous for fathers
Time off with the baby: can be financially disadvantageous for fathers
One of my biggest concerns last year was whether people referred to potential engineers as he, she or they [Is your language putting off the next generation of civil engineers?].

And (despite years of being warned) I was blissfully ignorant of how much time and energy sitting my Professional Review would require.

Now, I’ve sat my Review with successful results,celebrated having my evenings and weekends back and started thinking about what happens next.  Mainly I’ve thought about what I want in my career – technical vs managerial, future roles, projects, etc. But outside of work there is also the question of children.

The closer parenthood gets, my partner and I think less about “how soon can we take our child to Digger Land?” and turn to more practical considerations like the cost of having children or who will look after them, given that we’ve moved away from our parents in search of better career opportunities.

One thing we didn’t need to think about is parental leave in the first year.  I’m the sort of person who, while working on the most exciting project in the office, is jealous of the team working on the second most exciting. Whereas, at family parties my partner is always still entertaining children long after I’ve got bored and gone to the bar – probably to talk about work.  

With the new Shared Parental Leave Law, we vaguely knew he could use some of my 39 weeks maternity leave in addition to his 2 weeks paternity leave.
 

Large benefits, bigger financial implications

We looked into this in more detail – how much leave? At what pay? As all good engineers would, I made a spreadsheet to compare options.   

The results were quite alarming. Despite us both working at the same company and earning similar amounts, the leave arrangements we’d like would leave us thousands of pounds worse off than the 'traditional arrangement'. 

And while my company will pay for my ante-natal classes (in which I’ll learn how to care for our child), he is merely entitled to take unpaid time off, ideally at the start or end of the day and no more than twice. 

So my research thus far implies it's not so important that he learns how to care for our child and we’d be ‘better off’ if I do most of the caring.

I’m concerned that my partner’s time with his child and my future career path aren’t going to pan out as we want - not because of a change of heart but due the financial implications of laws and policies. And we’re not the only ones. Take up of shared parental leave has been very low despite high interest, with money often cited as the reason for not using it .

Despite the financial consequences I hope we’ll still take the leave as we’d like, (we’ll need a few more spreadsheets to check it will work) because studies have shown involved fathers lead to happier children, father and mothers .  And, yes, selfishly, because I’m worried about the implication of a large career break on my long-term prospects. Not that I’m saying I don’t care for the implication on his career - I want us both to take shorter career breaks.
 

Good for you but good for my company?

I know that some people will think “well that’s a nice thought but my company is mainly men, it would be awfully expensive if they all started taking longer and better paid parental leave breaks”.

Over two thirds of young fathers assess childcare before taking a new job or promotion , nearly half have lied to their employer about family related responsibilities and many are embarrassed or scared to ask for what they really want. What male talent has already turned down roles in your company? How many fathers and potential fathers are already disengaged?

A happier male workforce will help business. And a scenario in which mothers can return to work quicker will help reduce the gender pay gap – a goal all companies have recently committed to in their gender pay gap reports .
 

Government select committee recommendations

The Women and Equalities Committee recently made several recommendations to government  and I eagerly await the response.  While the government may accept some proposals, the change to law could take years and I’m not sure I want to wait that long. I’d like companies to act on them now.

The first recommendation looks to address the lack of knowledge among people about their rights – their right to attend ante-natal appointments, how much parental leave they can take, the right to request flexible working etc.  I know some companies are already increasing awareness of father’s rights and are encouraging greater take up of full paternity leave. But I do worry that even when men know the policies some may feel the personal costs are too high.

That should be addressed by other recommendations from the Women and Equalities Committee, for example;
  • Fathers should be entitled to paid time off to attend antenatal appointments
  • Statutory paternity pay should be increased
  • Dedicated 12 weeks paternity leave for fathers
I am pleased some companies have or are reviewing their policies - and thankful this includes mine.

If you are a person with influence on your company’s new policies, or think yours don’t need changing I’d ask you to consider whether they give men and women the same choices and opportunities?

Can anyone be a full-time primary parent to have time to bond with their new child? Or do you only financially support some people to have this “truly eye-opening experience that all adults can learn from” ?

And if you can’t directly influence the policies speak to someone who can, let them know your thoughts, tell them if you feel - like my partner and I do - that you’ve been denied some choices and it doesn’t seem fair.  
 

Footnote

I recognise that I have only considered part of the problem and considered it from my point of view – half of a straight couple who intend to give birth naturally while both in full time employment.

Once you’ve thought about the points I’ve raised here I’d urge you to think about parental leave from a point of view other than your own and check if your solutions meet everyone’s needs.
 

Further information

Research into fathers and families
Modern families index
Check your company's gender pay gap data
Parliament: fathers and the workplace inquiry
Richard Branson: how I built a career and raised a family




 
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