When Shared Parental Leave (SPL) was first introduced, I saw a fringe benefit. In future, it was going to be much harder for employers to discriminate against women who had babies.
Equal Rights to Shared Parental Leave
Why so? Well, prior to 2015 when SPL was introduced, only women had the benefit of being able to take an extended period of time away from the office following the arrival of a child. Once SPL was in place, men and women had this right. Employers could no longer simply assume that mum would always be the one to take time away from work.
There are examples of superb practice where employers have seen the introduction of SPL as an opportunity to equalise – or at least improve – parental leave and benefits. Aviva, British Land, Zurich, Nestle, BDO LLP and Diageo are all names that spring to mind. Unfortunately, other employers have resisted this change, comfortable in the knowledge that they only need to be concerned with female staff taking extended breaks from the workplace.
The Problem With Shared Parental Leave
A little while ago I heard from one man who attempted to exercise their legal right to take SPL, only to be taken into a back room and informed his boss would do all he could to “block” his request. Alas, he is not alone. I have heard similar stories.
Here’s another example of what can go wrong when a man takes SPL. It involves a man called Adam.
When Adam’s wife was pregnant with their first child, SPL was a new concept. He was the first person in his organisation to request the leave. Interestingly, Adam explained that his HR department were quite enthusiastic for him to take the leave as they wanted the experience of processing and assisting a man. He was, for all intents and purposes, a pioneer! Unfortunately the response from his manager was not quite so positive. While his manager made no attempt to block the leave, he happened to remark: “You’re not going to do this again are you?”
A Man’s Man!
Added to this, there was a certain amount of negativity from colleagues. At the office Christmas party, one female colleague, clearly fired up after a few flaming sambucas, approached Adam and told him she didn’t approve of men taking on the main caregiving role and that she liked: “A man’s man.”
To top it all off, Adam failed to get a promotion that he was expecting to come his way. It’s this last example that tells you all you need to know.
It shows that in some companies, the sexism women faced hasn’t gone away. Instead, it’s simply been extended so men. Men now face the same issues such as promotions being denied and bosses reluctantly agreeing to the SPL request, but as happened with Adam, making clear they aren’t happy about it. Two wrongs do not make a right. Simply making men face the same sexism that women have been dealing with will not make the workplace a more equal environment.
Asked what he thought about his employer’s response to him taking SPL, Adam remarked: “It wasn’t a great experience.”
Reap The Benefits Of Shared Parental Leave
Despite his experiences, I asked Adam what advice he’d give a man thinking of taking SPL. He thought they should definitely do it:
“Embrace it. Do not listen to the noise or any b******. You’ll reap the benefit. I have the most amazing bond with my daughter and I wouldn’t have had that if I had not spent so much time with her in the early days.”
I also asked what advice he’d give employers who have staff taking SPL:
“Give your staff the time and space they need. Keeping In Touch days (KIT) are invaluable. If you are holding events that staff could attend, after work drinks or something like that, invite them along. It is hard to keep people in the fold when they are away from the office for a long time, but you can take simple steps so staff can keep up with what’s happening.”
The one saving grace from all of this is that Adam’s story dates back to when SPL was first introduced. Time has moved on and you’d hope employers had changed their approach and embraced SPL.
It is becoming more common for men to take SPL when they become fathers. That said, take up among men has been notoriously low. Reasons cited for this have included the potential impact on a man’s career. Adam’s story tends to suggest this is a problem. Instead of removing the discrimination women faced, men are also having to deal with it.
A Route To Equality
As a society we really do need to accept that men can be caregivers. Neither women nor men will experience true equality until we do and a lot of the responsibility for changing those attitudes rests with employers.