Picking Apart Paternity Leave Policies

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In April 2015, long after it should have been, the law on maternity leave changed, to give mothers more flexibility, and fathers the chance to spend much needed time with their newborns. Giving parents the chance to split parental leave, the new policy was an attempt at making the workplace more equal. However with only 0.5-2% of new parents utilizing the scheme within the first 6 months, why has the move not been working?

Along with giving fathers the option to stay at home with their child, implementing these new laws came with the hope that paternity leave would actually help close the gender pay gap, with Managing Director of Maxus, Anna Hickey, stating, “if the risk of [taking time out of the business to have children] is equal for men and women, then the potential for prejudicial action is eliminated.” Hickeys theories have thus proven true with every month that dads take for parental leave increasing their partner’s future earnings by 7%.

These gains aren’t just reserved for the individual either, with companies themselves benefitting from the split. In fact studies have found that those businesses who encourage equal time off actually thrive within their sector, with the Peterson Institute finding businesses who encourage gender equality earn an average of 15% more in net profit.

These days off don’t just increase the earning profit of the present either, but that of our future children, with the University of Oslo finding paternity leave to significantly improve a child’s performance at Secondary School. Not a massively surprising result when not only are dads who take time off at birth a third more likely to read books with their toddlers, but they’re also more likely to report greater marriage satisfaction, as well as lower divorce rates.

Ban Ilan University, suggest that despite long-held views, both parents are equally as capable of staying at home during the first few months, finding in a recent study nothing inherent about women which makes them better parents. In fact neural pathways develop that make the primary caregiver more responsive to emotional cues in children, regardless of gender.

Unfortunately despite these findings, and despite the well-meaning behind the 2015 law, parental leave is still swayed towards women. Finding a rather large flaw in the system, the move still gives the full leave to mothers, allowing them the choice to ‘share’ the time with the father if they see fit. Similarly companies are yet to catch up with parental leave changes, with the majority still only extending maternity leave and leaving paternity leave by the wayside.

It’s not surprising then that so many fathers are choosing their desk over dirty nappies, and with men who take paternity leave more likely to earn less, suffer more discrimination and workplace harassment, as well as work less hours, paternity leave can feel less like a blessing and more like a punishment. In fact in a study of 1,000 participants, over half of the participants perceived the time off as a lack of commitment to their job, meaning rather than reducing discrimination, we might just be passing the buck.

Attempting to counteract these negative perceptions, European countries such as Finland, Norway and Sweden have implemented mandatory parental leave, in which both parents must take a certain amount of time off or risk losing the entire families eligibility for leave. These policies are attempting to take the responsibility of choice from parent’s shoulders and thus negating their colleague’s feelings of resentment.

Similarly larger technology companies are extending their parental leave benefits, in order to include both parents. Netflix offer unlimited paid leave for both genders, whilst Etsy’s 6 month paid scheme has seen an equal amount of men and women take them up on their offer. With their 35% promotion rate allowing them to prove a lack of discrimination towards new parents and thus encourage future mums and dads to take the full leave offered to them.

Joining Australia, whose parental leave program found only 1 out of 500 dads taking the leave they were offered, it’s clear that a reshuffle of both policies and opinions is necessary for our businesses, careers and more importantly for our children to thrive.