Men still aren't taking paternity leave - why this is bad for business and what you can do about it

Many fathers - and bosses - consider parental leave to be less important for men than women.

by Stephen Jones
Last Updated: 08 Jul 2019

If you’re a man, you’re less likely to take time off work to care for your children. 

According to new research by EMW, less than a third (31 per cent) of eligible men have taken paternity leave, marginally down on last year’s 32 per cent. Over three times as many women used various equivalent company schemes between 2018 and 2019.  

The fall comes despite concerted efforts to level the playing field. Shared Parental Leave was intended to encourage fathers to play a greater role in their children’s early years and remedy the motherhood penalty by enabling new mothers and fathers to split 50 weeks of leave and 37 weeks of statutory pay.

The main reason businesses would benefit from more men taking maternity leave is, paradoxically, that it helps keep talented women in the organisation: the motherhood penalty remains one of the most significant and enduring aspects of the gender pay and promotion gaps. It also, of course, provides a competitive advantage for attracting and retaining new and expectant fathers. 

So why are more men not taking time off, and more importantly how can businesses encourage them?

The why...

Financial barriers

Despite repeated governmental moves to change this, it remains in many cases financially beneficial for the mother to take the time off and the father to stay at work. 

The government’s Statutory Maternity Pay lets mothers claim 90 per cent of their average weekly earnings for six weeks, followed by a weekly rate of £148.68 or 90 per cent of weekly earnings (whichever is lower) for a further 33 weeks. Under Statutory Paternity Pay,  fathers can claim up to two weeks of leave. 

Shared Parental Leave, which is designed to remedy that imbalance, has been criticised for different reasons. "There is a sense that the scheme as it is doesn't send a strong enough signal that it’s expected that fathers should take time off work,’ says Alliance Manchester Business School’s Emma Banister.

In July Penny Mordaunt, minister for women and equalities, revealed plans to evaluate the impact of SPL by the end of 2019 as part of her roadmap for gender equality. 

Types of roles

"The rise of the gig economy has meant that for a lot of men, taking time off for the birth of a child has become an unaffordable luxury," says Jon Taylor, principal at EMW, the commercial law firm behind the study. 

He adds that the fact that men are more likely to work in roles that lack the right to paternity leave is a significant reason that progress has been slow: just under 70 per cent of gig economy workers are men, as are 74 per cent of self employed workers according to ONS figures. 

"Shared Parental Leave is a very well-meaning policy, but it has not yet made any significant inroads into the issue of men being unable to take paternity leave," says Taylor. 

Stubborn perceptions

The truth is, many still find themselves grappling with the ingrained perception that flexible working and time off show a lack of commitment. 

"A few members of the older generation have found it harder to adjust their perceptions around childcare and the impact it could have on my career," says Mark Smith, a managing director at Accenture, talking about his early experiences of taking 32 weeks of paternity leave

Get the culture right and honest conversations become the norm, says Ben Black, director of employment benefits firm My Family Care. 

The how...

Don’t wait for the government. More companies are starting to take action into their own hands. 

Netflix offers employers unlimited parental leave, FTSE 100 insurer Aviva unrolled its equal parental leave scheme - which gave all employees, regardless of gender, 12 months leave with 26 weeks at full pay - in 2017, and in April this year Guinness and Baileys owner Diageo announced that it too would offer parents six months paid leave. 

By 2019, 47 per cent of the 840 Aviva UK staff using the scheme were men. The company said that it made them more productive upon their return to work;  91 per cent  felt that taking longer than the statutory paternity leave helped with their return, commenting that they felt less tired and in more of a routine than they would if they’d taken two weeks of leave.

Image credit: Negative Space via Pexels


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