Last week, Aviva announced that it will be offering equal parental leave for all of its 16,000 UK employees, ‘regardless of gender, sexual orientation or how they became a parent.’ There isn’t an eligibility requirement pertaining to how long an employee has been at the company, or how much they are paid: Aviva will offer one year of leave, of which 26 weeks is at full basic pay.
Why are we telling you this? Because business has a problem with parenthood. Statutory and shared parental leave are poorly paid, which tends to encourage fathers to return to work far earlier than mothers, contributing to the enduring inequality of career progression and pay between the genders. If both were offered the same leave at full pay, you’d expect the motherhood penalty to decrease.
‘I want to live in a world where the only criteria for success is someone’s talent, not their gender,’ said group CEO Mark Wilson. ‘Treating parents equally will help make this happen.’
Here are three reasons why he’s right about equal, adequate parental leave.
1) It combats structural inequality
‘The existing take-up of shared parental leave among men is still very low, with a likely obstacle being the low level of statutory shared parental pay. It’s great to see Aviva on the front foot and removing the financial barriers to allow both parents to play an equal part in caring for a new baby,’ says Rachel Suff, employment relations advisor at the CIPD.
‘It’s also encouraging to see that the policy takes the appropriately broad view of gender and sexual orientation as there are many different family configurations, all of whom should have equal opportunity to be involved in the upbringing of their child.’
2) It’s good business
Paying more people more money not to work – a lot of employers will still struggle with that idea. But in an age when talent and creativity determine success, it’s just smart business. Put simply, progressive, forward thinking companies will be able to attract and motivate progressive, forward thinking individuals. And those individuals will make your company grow.
3) It throws down the gauntlet
A cynic might call Aviva’s move a PR ploy, but every time a major employer offers equal parental leave at full pay, it makes it more difficult for its competitors not to do so. That’s important, because there’s still so much more to be done.
‘This is great news for Aviva workers. But the problem is that many parents in insecure work simply don’t get access to many family-friendly rights, because of the contracts they’re on,’ says TUC employment rights policy officer, Matt Creagh. ‘Many low-paid workers simply can’t afford time off. Statutory paternity and shared parental leave only pays £140 a week, less than half what a parent on the minimum wage would be earning.’
It’s sobering to learn that just 1% of dads in the UK take advantage of shared parental leave, or that a total of 28 countries have better paternity and pay schemes than the UK. In Sweden for example, fathers get 80 days more paid paternity leave than is the legal requirement in the UK (1 to 2 weeks). But by acting out of enlightened self-interest, business can help address that, one employer at a time.
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