May 28, 2020

Father’s day 2020: removing gender bias in parental leave

photo by liane metzler, unsplash

In this post, we’re looking ahead to Father’s Day on 21st June (Happy Father’s Day to all!)

We’re also want to take this opportunity to highlight the UK’s woeful statutory paternity rights in the hope that over time, companies will lead by example to make equality in parenting the norm — not the exception.

We want Dads to be given more of a chance to be their awesome selves. We also want to address the knock-on effects created by structures of parental leave that conform to (and reinforce) gender stereotypes in family life, and society in general.

This blog post is a statement of our belief at Unleashed.

It’s also an introduction to our template ‘Parenternity’ policy/guidance, which you can find in our ‘Really Useful Stuff’ section of this issue of Unleashed Thinking.) We want to help you view parental leave from the perspective of the rights and best interests of children.

The intention of this blog isn’t to politicise, but instead to express a different perspective on something that needs to be seriously addressed. We believe that what is in place currently, is no longer fit for the world we live in today.

Planning and raising a family is deeply personal and oftentimes complicated. It is always a highly emotional experience. We want to inspire you to design approaches, guidance and policies that strive for progress — and urge you to take what action you can within our legislative constraints.

How Does the UK Compare?

The disparity between maternity leave and paternity leave in the UK is the biggest in the developed world.

Current statutory paternity leave in the UK states that businesses must provide qualifying dads with up to 2 weeks’ paternity leave. Yep… That’s a maximum statutory entitlement of TWO WEEKS!!!

Anybody who has welcomed a new child into their lives will attest to the fact that two weeks is no time at all. It’s offensive to men to assume that their impact on their child’s life from the get-go, can or should be limited to only a fortnight’s worth of quality time.

The UK law also goes on to stipulate that those two weeks must be taken in one-week-long chunks. As a new dad, you’re not able to spread those days to be a little more present for a little longer as part of your new relationship with a human being whose wellbeing, learning and development you are directly responsible for.

Shared Parental Leave was introduced with much fanfare in the UK in 2015, but its impact in reality hasn’t been that positive. To start with, Shared Parental Leave is not the same as Shared Parental Pay (of the shared 50 week leave entitlement, parents are entitled to 37 weeks of pay between them). In addition, there are prohibitively complex eligibility criteria for parents, that furthermore, distinguish between ‘birth parents’ and ‘adoptive parents’ (surely, parents are just parents regardless of biology?)

The results show that only three in seven UK families are actually eligible for Shared Parental Leave. Having ‘Worker’ status in the UK (that which applies to agency workers or people on zero hours contracts) removes your entitlement.

A study in 2018 by the TUC showed that only 1% of UK parents have actually shared any leave at all.

Some quick research uncovers some stark comparisons between the UK and other European countries.

Let’s take Finland, where all references distinguishing between maternity and paternity have been totally scrapped and where, regardless of gender, nearly seven months paid leave is provided.

Parental leave in Sweden is renowned for being extremely generous (where parental leave is paid out for no less than 480 days — approximately 16 months). In addition, 90 of that leave is reserved for each parent!

Why Is This So Important?

Parental leave policies that are gendered — those that grant different leave time for paternity or maternity — can be considered discriminatory towards male-identifying team members and female-identifying team members who cannot, or choose not to, give birth to their child or children.

Parental leave policies that are gendered also reinforce stereotyping of gender roles in parenting. When only female-identifying team members receive the full entitlement of parental leave (coupled with such a disparity between gendered leave entitlement as we have in the UK,) the implication seems to be that care and responsibility for children are her responsibilities. These types of policies also imply that male-identifying employees are culturally expected to give disproportionately more focus to work responsibilities than family ones.

This directly hinders gender equality, and the obligation for shared responsibilities. Parental leave policies should be gender-neutral, thus ensuring principles of equality, nondiscrimination, and fairness are not only being applied in the workplace, but are being taken seriously by employers for the good of society as a whole.

There is very recent evidence of how rigid and old fashioned gender norms are being further entrenched during the current coronavirus pandemic, in situations where both parents are in full time employment. Currently mums are only able to do one hour of uninterrupted work, for every three hours done by dads… Employment is inextricably linked to this problem.

How Should Employers Do Better for Dads?

Ultimately, we want to see better leave entitlement for men so that we see more uptake; more dads using their paternity leave. Only when that happens will we start to see a change to societal thinking in the UK.

Way back in 2007, Germany introduced two month’s leave for new Dads and as a result saw their paternity leave uptake rate increase from 3.3% to 29.3% in five years. This is crucial. The United Nations found in a study conducted in 2016, that fathers who take paternity leave go on to take a more equal share of parenting duties, that their daughters are likely to have higher career aspirations and their sons will be less sexist. (We think that it’s safe to at least assume a correlation here!)

To make it possible to raise children of any gender as equals, and for adults to treat each other as equals, the government and the legal system have a responsibility to change the legal infrastructure and legal policies which it makes.

However, in the absence of legally required inclusive or gender neutral policies, we will do what we can to play our part and demonstrate our beliefs.

We hope that our ‘Parenternity’ policy/ guidance will inspire you to start thinking with increased intent about your company’s own approach to parental leave. We understand that there are financial implications and we understand that it’s difficult for small businesses to fight the tide of statutory government entitlements; but we’d love to see startups and scaleups starting to take a stronger, more inclusive stance.

Perhaps you could mark Father’s Day 2020 by writing and sharing your own statement of belief.

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