Blog by Richard Chapman-Harris, Diversity Advisor Opportunity Now
With new parental leave legislation set to come into effect in early 2015, parents will have the option of sharing leave over the course of a year. How this will be shared - if at all - is a key question not only parents, but employers should be asking themselves.
With 81% of women feeling that having a child will negatively impact their career, but only 34% of men, age 28-40 taking this view, will this legislative alternation change perceptions? Many argue not. Many feel that men do not want to be fulltime fathers, even for just two weeks in their child’s first year. The TUC suggest that 1 in 172 fathers (less than 1%) are taking advantage of Additional Paternity Leave, which has been available to new dads since 2010 (BIS). In the UK, only a fifth of fathers use any paternity leave at all (Carvel, 2008). In Nordic countries, where fathers are forced to take leave, many do so for wider familial activities, not necessarily childcare, as suggested by the fact that paternity leave is concentrated in August and around Christmas and New Year (Hakim, 2011).
The problem is that men do not want to suffer the career penalty women experience. Whether this is a myth or reality, women believe it, and so do men. According to the ILM’s Shared Opportunity paper ‘71% of managers agree that male, senior managers are under greater pressure to take no more than two weeks of paternity leave.’ More than half of managers see parental leave as disruptive with over three quarters feeling that parental leave negatively impacts productivity. No one wants to be disruptive or unproductive, and fathers will avoid these labels if they can, especially when wider society still sees women are care givers. With DWP research suggesting that just 9% of new fathers receive full pay for longer than two weeks when on paternity leave, the ‘paternity pay gap’ will dissuade more fathers from anything more than part-time paternity.
On a related note, Helena Morrissey, CEO of Newton Investment Management and Chair of Opportunity Now, has nine children, a fact quoted in a recent press release. I can’t say I have ever heard the same attribute attached to a senior, male leader. Of course it is an achievement to have nine children, it is amazing to have one or to make the decision not to have any at all. What strikes me is that the conversation about children, especially when viewed from within a workspace, is that it is often associated with the female, a woman’s job. Lady Geek CEO Belinda Palmer writing in The Guardian newspaper, recently wondered why no one was asking Larry Page ‘how he manages his work and his personal life.’ I wonder if Sergey Brin lists how many children he has in his professional biography.
Opportuniy Now members can log in and view the Paternity in the Workplace toolkit