“When did we agree that motherhood had to be a struggle?” So said Stella Creasey MP in a recent edition of the Sunday Times.
You may remember that Creasey made headlines back in September when she chaired a debate in Parliament with her newborn son, Pip, in a sling on her chest. Well, that wasn’t what made the headlines. What actually made the headlines was the fact Creasey received a letter from the Parliamentary authorities. Telling her that babies were not be brought into the debating chamber.
What does an MP Breast Feeding in Parliament have to do with Men gaining Shared Parental Leave?
You may be wondering what this has to do with DaddyJobs. In my opinion it has a lot to do with men’s place in the workplace and the home. I’m going to come to that in a moment, but first, a bit more about Creasey and her campaigning work.
Creasey took Pip into the debating chamber because she was breastfeeding him. You might think that sounds like an odd thing to do. You don’t, after all, generally see breastfeeding women taking their babies on to the shop floor or the office.
It’s not so straightforward for MPs. They are classed as ‘office holders’ as opposed to employees. So they don’t have the usual rights to parental leave or employment rights. While MPs do receive six months of parental leave, only an MP can vote or take part in a debate in Parliament.
This put Creasey in an awkward position when she had to chair that debate last September. Only she could chair the debate, but she knew Pip would need to be fed. So baby had to go along with mum.
I would say the rest is history, but it isn’t. That was just the beginning of the story. Creasey received a lot of flak from other MPs, the speaker of the House of Commons and a veritable army of ‘armchair commentators’ made their thoughts known on social media.
Changing the system for Women AND Men
Despite this, Creasey held strong. Her aim is to get the Parliamentary authorities to rethink their stance. So that a proper system of maternity cover can be put in place for MPs. And also for it to be possible for a locum to take part in votes or debates. She makes an excellent point that women could be put off entering politics by the current state of affairs. Along with Pregnant Then Screwed, Creasey launched a campaign called This Mum Votes. To encourage women with children into all levels of politics.
So far, so Stella Creasey. So what has this got to do with dads and working culture?
Where are the dads in Parliament calling for better parental leave rights for women and for men? Yet again, a woman is leading the debate about flexible working, parental leave and work-life balance. Don’t get me wrong, I think Creasey should be doing what she is doing and she is doing a superb job. Without men also joining this discussion, however, this will be classed as a ‘women’s issue.’
We had an Evolution in Shared Parental Leave, but not a Revolution
Back in 2015, Shared Parental Leave (SPL) was introduced. It was a massive step in the right direction and it completely changed the discussion about men’s roles in the workplace and as fathers. While it increased discussion and debate, the SPL system is essentially a form of ‘transferable maternity leave.’ While it is more common to hear of dads taking a couple of months off work following the birth of a child, SPL was definitely more of an evolutionary move than a revolutionary one.
Are there any dads in Parliament demanding a review of SPL? I hear silence, even from the All Party Parliamentary Group on Fatherhood.
If you cast your mind back to 2018, you might remember Andrew Griffiths MP was interviewed by Emma Barnett on BBC 5 Live (Barnett has gone on to become a Woman’s Hour presenter). Griffiths was on the show to promote SPL and encourage new dads to take some time off to be with their offspring. Unfortunately for him, the interview descended into farce when it transpired Griffiths recently had a child, but was unable to take SPL because Government ministers don’t qualify for it!
Yup, exactly the same rules that meant Creasey had to take her child into Parliament meant Griffiths couldn’t take SPL. Griffiths was made the butt of jokes in various newspaper reports but Creasey turned her experiences into a high-profile campaign that is gathering increasing interest and momentum.
Men need to be campaigning for better Parental Leave along with Women
Why does this matter? We need MPs to represent everyone. We need greater recognition of the fact equality is only achievable if men campaign for flexible working rights, if men campaign for better parental leave and if men campaign for better paternity pay.
This isn’t simply a reflection of the working culture of Parliament. It is a reflection of how committed male politicians are to changing the world for the better, for the better of their children and for the women in their lives.
It is also a reflection of how much politicians want to change wider working culture. If female and male politicians would speak up about the need to improve parental leave and to improve access and quality of flexible working, to improve job design and call upon employers to rethink the workplace, we’d have better equality.
I applaud what Creasey is doing and I think she is absolutely right. I just wish more men, especially those in positions of power in Parliament, would set an example and create a public discussion about why flexible working and good parental leave should be available to everyone.
You know what I also want to see? I want to see a male MP take his newborn child into the debating chamber in Westminster. Now that would make a statement.
It’s about having that conversation about all forms of flexible working, if you want to know more, have a read of John’s thoughts on; if your employer hasn’t embraced flexible working, ask yourself why.