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Stephen  Bevan

Shared Parental Leave. Not for Losers.

Authors: Stephen Bevan

01 December 2014

‘We monitor the take-up of paternity leave to help us weed-out the losers’. This was the proud claim of the HR Director of an investment bank we interviewed for a study back in 2002. He was very happy to showcase the bank’s ‘enlightened’ HR policies in public, but privately admitted that any father who took their full paternity leave entitlement could look forward to career stagnation as a result. A reward (or punishment) for their misplaced commitment.

Fast-forward to today and we have new regulations coming into effect which mean that parental leave of up to a year can be shared between the mother and father of a child born after 5 April 2015. This is part of a package of measures under the Children and Families Act which also include an extension of the ‘right to request’ flexible working rules for all employees, not just those with caring responsibilities. There is no doubt that these changes are to be welcomed – flexibility in working time gives people much-needed control, often at a time when both work and non-work demands can place great strain on families. It is also heartening to see that so many of the organisations representing businesses (CBI, FSB etc) welcoming these measures too.

The real test, perhaps, is likely to come when fathers start asking for sizeable chunks of parental leave. How will employers react? Will taking several months of parental leave have the same career-limiting effect that maternity leave has had for too many women? Or will it lead to the same kind of societal shift in our expectations of fathers in child-rearing as has happened in Scandinavia?

The worst outcome is that fathers who wish to play a full role in developing secure attachments with their children, and playing a full part in caring for their children are subtly discouraged from doing so if they still have career aspirations. Hopefully, the attitudes we uncovered in one organisation in 2002 are even less representative now. Wanting to be a good Dad – or Mum – doesn’t make you a loser at work, and I hope that these new provisions will prove to be a progressive milestone on the journey towards much more enlightened employment practices.