There has been much comment in the press, as we pass the first year anniversary of Shared Parental Leave (SPL) that uptake has been poor and its predicted offering is not benefitting families as anticipated.
Launched just over a year ago, SPL allows eligible working parents to share periods of parental leave following the birth or the adoption of their child, which can be up to 50 weeks of leave – 37 of which are paid. Pay is £139.58 a week, or 90 percent of earnings, whichever is lower, although, like Maternity leave, employers can choose to top-up earnings.
The advantages are obvious to most as this new law supports an increase in gender equality at home and in the work place. As a society we are not paid for raising children and this new rule recognises the value of raising children. It ensures that women do not need to take such a long break from their career and men can spend more quality bonding time with their children.
However, a study by My Family Care found that only 1% of men had made use of the provision one year after the policy was implemented. There are many suggested reasons for this:
- Men fear prejudice if they choose to take it up.
- There is little financial incentive offered to them to make this change.
- It takes time for society to adapt. In previous generations men have created identity through work and providing for a wife and family.
- Families are reliant on two wages now and often depend on the man’s which can often be the higher of the two wages.
How does the UK compare to other Countries?
In a previous role, I managed teams in the UK, USA and Sweden. I was shocked to see the differences in culture across these markets.
I found it challenging to manage the long hours (and sometimes weekend) culture of a UK corporate, alongside a New York way of working, which sees corporate women virtually bounced from the maternity ward back to the office – in contrast with an office in Stockholm filled with professionals who clocked off at 4pm, took four weeks holidays in the summer and valued time with their family over the demands of working like.
Comparable to the UK, the US provides no statutory parental leave. There are a few exceptions in companies such as Facebook who offers four months’ paid leave in the first year.
Although I know which values I respected more, it did not make it any easier to manage when arranging cover for the Swedish office and managing an overloaded UK team.
The culture in Sweden is perhaps surprisingly not new. In 1974 Sweden was the world’s first country to replace maternity leave with gender-neutral “parental leave”. Significantly the parental leave that is reserved exclusively for fathers, is lost if the father does not take up the option of leave and so about 85 percent of fathers choose to take the leave rather than lose it.
As for the UK, the take-up of 2 to 8 per cent that the Government predicted in the first year compared to the actual 1% positive response, suggests that with such limited progress, we might need more legislation. How can we persuade businesses to publicise it more to their staff, when they fear the resultant uptake and the impact on their business?
However, Japan is an example that shows government policy alone is not enough as new fathers are entitled to 12 months paternity leave on 60 percent of their salary – yet take up is low (almost 2 percent).
In managing a local team it is certainly more challenging if stark cultural working conditions exist across countries, particularly with Sweden again pushing the boundaries and moving towards a six hour working day week. There is no easy answer to this issue and compromises need to be made.
We have seen a small step forward in the UK but the general feeling is that statutory pay must be increased further by the Government if we are to see this policy truly ingrained in our society. How better to create a level playing field between men and women in work, than to create a more equal environment in the home?