Since 2015, new parents have been able to take advantage of shared parental leave. Mothers can convert up to 50 weeks of maternity leave and 37 weeks of maternity pay into shared parental leave and shared parental pay. They can then share it with a second parent.
Research by Working Families, published in April 2017, suggests that up to 52% of male employees who are fathers would like to take shared parental leave, but government figures, published by the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS) and member of Parliament Andrew Griffiths in February 2018, suggest that only 2% to 8% of them actually do so.
The House of Commons Women and Equalities Committee published its Fathers in the Workplace report in March 2018, looking at the challenges faced by male employees if they want to take a more equal share of childcare responsibilities when children are young.
It identified a number of barriers including a lack of awareness among men of their rights, that the process of applying to take leave is complex and can be off-putting, that men are worried about losing out financially, and that cultural and social norms make it difficult to ask for leave, with many men expressing concerns about the long-term impact taking a break can have on their careers.
So what can an employer do to address these barriers? Firstly, it can make sure employees know what their rights are. This can be done by highlighting family-friendly benefits in recruitment packages, employee handbooks and on staff noticeboards. Employers can also help people understand their entitlement and how it works by preparing an easy-to-read, summary information sheet that sets out key points.
Employers can also help to normalise shared parental leave by making it part of internal conversations. Internal communications can celebrate success and highlight senior role models. In addition, many employers enhance maternity pay but few enhance shared parental leave pay; employers should consider equalising benefits to ease employees’ financial concerns.
The increased focus on gender pay differences and equality at work, in general, mean that as well as helping fathers achieve their ambitions to play an active role in their child’s care, employers which take action to encourage the take-up of shared parental leave may also obtain significant wider advantages in terms of employer brand.
Annelise Tracy Phillips is senior associate in the employment team at law firm Burges Salmon