Last year, the launch of Shared Parental Leave (SPL) seemed to promise more flexibility and freedom for women to choose when they would to return to work after their baby is born, while offering men an opportunity to be more involved in childcare. But uptake of SPL has been resoundingly low at 1%.
Company culture is a big part of the problem. A quick dig into the stats reveals that just 40% of employees say that their bosses actively encourage sharing leave. Policies such as SPL will never work in isolation; business leaders need to create a wider ethos of equality to remove practical and cultural barriers to people being able to thrive in their careers, regardless of their gender. And it will work in their favour to do so.
Parity begins at home
If men were encouraged to be more hands-on with parenting, women wouldn’t face an opportunity cost in terms of their career and this first hurdle would be removed. We shouldn’t overlook the benefits to men either. The cultural (mis) perception that masculinity equates with ambition and full-time work leads to many fathers missing out on precious time with their children.
There’s a brilliant quote from Sheryl Sandberg: 'in a truly equal world, women would run half the countries and half the companies and men would run half the homes.' Sadly we are a long way off from that reality. The pattern in the advertising and marketing industry is that men and women start out at the same level and salary. Then a big gap happens at the middle level - around the childbearing years, and that triangle narrows as we look to executive and board level roles.
New measures that will force companies with more than 250 employees to address the 19.2% pay gap between male and female employees from April 2017 will help, but it won’t be enough on its own. As well as offering Shared Parental Leave (which we do as part of our UK new parental policy, along with 26 weeks paid leave for new mums or dads), we need to wipe out the persisting culture of presenteeism. We have the technology to make agile working outside of the office happen, so let’s use it. Offering greater flexibility will, in turn, have a positive impact on staff retention.
We also need decent paid statutory leave and affordable childcare to stop (mainly) women being forced out of their careers to look after children. Right now, neither the government nor many companies make it easy for them.
Diversity at the top pays dividends
Equality is right for women and for society, but it also makes good business sense. Time and again, research proves that gender diversity benefits the bottom line. Research by McKinsey shows that companies with higher female representation on the board outperform those without, delivering 53% greater return on equity. Hard facts from EY and PricewaterhouseCoopers support this correlation between top-tier diversity and profitability. Diversity of all sorts creates a more vibrant, productive working culture for us all and we’ve seen countless examples of where having another perspective has lent us a competitive edge.
Supporting fathers in taking up SPL is just one important, visible part of fostering a culture of equality and it’s down to business leaders to lead change. When we lay the foundations to draw our most senior workforce from a broader talent pool, we experience greater teamwork, better collaboration and higher quality work - not to mention a happier, more balanced workforce. What’s not to like?
Lindsay Pattison is worldwide CEO of Maxus.