Back in 2015, when the Government introduced Shared Parental Leave (SPL) overwhelmingly it was a positive move. SPL allows parents to take blocks of leave between periods of work, rather than taking a whole chunk of leave in one period with parents able to share up to 50 weeks between them. Fathers could take time at home to spend with their children, and working parents could make a choice, rather than have women feel the burden of expectation on them to be the stay at home parent.
It won’t surprise readers to note that such a system has been the norm in Scandinavia for many years where Sweden became, in 1974, the first country to out-mode the concept of ‘maternity leave’ instead reverting to a gender neutral ‘parental leave policy’.
When the then deputy PM Nick Clegg announced the SPL Regulations in 2014, he stated that the aim was to “sweep away those Edwardian rules which still hold back those families working hard to juggle their responsibilities at home and work”.
Whilst we won’t seek to deal with biology, and there’s no doubt that some women, after having had a particularly arduous labour, might prefer to take more time to recover – SPL has failed to take off. A recent study by the employee benefits organisation My Family Care, has argued that take up is “low, disappointing and worse than we all hoped”. Why might this be? Well despite the progressive nature of the policy, it seems that the majority of parents just aren’t aware of SPL’s existence.
There are perhaps three reasons why even amongst those who are aware of SPL, the take-up has been low…
1) The gender pay gap sadly still exists: whilst many couples are firmly “dual income”, Men still take home more money and therefore couples are worse off if leave is split.
2) Old stereotypes die harder than John McClane. My Family Care suggests that “taking time off to do a bit of nannying” is seen as “uncool” for men.
3) Some women simply aren’t that keen on giving their partners any of their maternity leave!
Another issue, reported the FT, is that HR policy on SPL often serves to impede SPL’s stated objective of limiting the effect of maternity on a woman’s career because it is often positioned in such a way as to restrict full pay benefits to fathers to the first period following the birth, rather than allowing it to be spread across blocks - as the regulations intend.
It is the attitudes of employers that is the key to the success of this policy. The government have stated that there will be no formal review until next year, by which time SPL will be three years oldAt present, the regulations are slightly tricky to interpret, which also doesn’t help. Women have to end their maternity leave to allow the father to take up his SPL. This also almost always involves stacks of forms which require to go between two companies, whom might have different approaches to SPL.
Tech companies in recent years, have been seen as the bastions of progression, with flexible approaches to work life balance, better office environs (and we’re just not talking about bean bags in the break out area), and an embracing of SPL. Other companies have followed suit, slowly, but certain attitudes prevail – and this is perhaps a rare situation where the regulation is ahead of the market practice, rather than playing catch-up.
Any HR department seeking a review of their SPL policy should contact Neil Paterson for more information.