Working parents: shared parental leave has the potential to positively impact gender equality

father and child
iStocke/vgenyatamanenko

With the uptake of new fathers taking up shared parental leave remaining stubbornly low, it seems a change in workplace culture and perception is needed in order for employees to truly feel the benefits. One professional dad shares his personal experience of the scheme and how it has positively impacted both his personal and working life.

In December 2015, my second daughter Amie was born. Nine months later I made the decision to take advantage of shared parental leave, and so spent three months off work caring for Amie and our eldest, Sophie.

The decision to take shared parental leave (SPL) was a nerve-wracking one at the time. The legislation was still relatively new (although my employer Accenture had fully embraced it through a new policy) and I was unsure about how my plans would be received by colleagues and friends.

Many were initially surprised but everyone was incredibly supportive. Some colleagues with older children were perhaps slightly envious and confided that they wished the leave had been ‘around in their day’!

I’m incredibly grateful for my experience of having taken SPL for a myriad of reasons. The three months I spent being the full-time carer for my daughters was enriching from both a personal and professional perspective.

It was quite an adjustment at first - it takes a while to leave work behind and it can be a bit of a shock to be pushing a buggy around the supermarket at 9am on a Tuesday morning - but the time flew by.

The experience gave me a real insight into the highs and lows of being both a stay-at-home and a working parent, and I think that more people having this dual perspective is what will help to drive the cultural change that we need to get to gender equality and equal parenting roles.

The importance of balancing your personal and professional goals hit home for me through my experience of shared parental leave.

I was able to see the exhaustion of parenting juxtaposed with the upsides - playing with and caring for the children, watching them start to speak, to stand, to walk, or to master a certain task.

Those are the truly special ‘everyday’ moments that I’m incredibly grateful I could witness. It’s also very nice to feel calm when they’re crying without having to call for my other half.

A change of perspective

Having the opportunity to share more responsibility for looking after our children not only put into perspective how challenging it can be to be a full-time parent, but it also impacted my outlook at work. The experience made me more empathetic towards the various needs of my colleagues and team.

Everyone needs to be able to fulfill their responsibilities and aspirations outside of work, whether it’s having a family, caring for a relative, excelling in a hobby or something else.

The importance of balancing your personal and professional goals hit home for me through my experience of SPL, and actually resulted in a life-changing decision, as I ultimately chose to go part time when I returned to work.

It’s a decision I never would have considered or perhaps been confident enough to make if it hadn’t been for the experience of SPL.

Looking back, taking SPL felt like a pretty radical decision at the time but attitudes are now changing. I have since witnessed several colleagues take SPL and in Accenture now has a take-up rate of 12% among new dads.

Why is it important?

It’s clear to me that SPL has the potential to positively impact both men and women’s attitudes to parenting and gender roles across society.

If, as the theory goes, one of the barriers to gender diversity and inclusion in the workplace is the impact on a woman’s career of having a family, then rebalancing the time off has got to be a step in the right direction.

The national take-up is still extremely low. Continued education around the opportunities and benefits is important to combat this.

Furthermore, it’s an important issue to our workforce, particularly younger generations who often have a different perspective regarding flexible working and family life. SPL is part of a new dialogue around all types of work/life balance and how you create and sustain a happy, engaged workforce.

What now?

I am passionate about championing SPL and continue to talk to colleagues and friends about the benefits. Of course, progress has been made in awareness and acceptance of taking the leave, but the national take-up is still extremely low. Continued education around the opportunities and benefits is important to combat this.

My experience of taking shared parental leave changed my outlook on family and working life for the better, and I hope that I’m able to encourage others to take that leap of faith for themselves.

Interested in learning more about this topic? Read Why new fathers are too scared to take paternity leave.

About James Hebblethwaite

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19th Sep 2018 22:35

I think shared parental leave is a great initiative as so many families are missing a father figure around in crucial moments of when children (and their spouses) need them the most. of course, there is going to be the stigma of feeling "guilty" for using it but I think once it becomes the norm then it won't be such a big deal. Congrats on your newborn!

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