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Shared opportunity: parental leave in UK business

The introduction of shared parental leave is a key enabler of gender diversity in organisations. But just 10% of new fathers take more than two weeks of paternity leave currently, and this falls to 2% among managers. Our research highlights a combination of cultural and financial barriers which appear set to impede the uptake of the shared parental leave scheme.

Shared leave explained

Currently, mothers are entitled to up to 52 weeks statutory maternity leave and fathers one or two weeks statutory paternity leave following the birth or adoption of a child.

From 2015, a mother will be able to choose to switch to the new shared leave scheme if she wishes. Eligible mothers and their partners will be able to take up to 52 weeks of leave in total, to be shared between them either in alternating blocks or taken together.

Cultural acceptance

After the birth or adoption of a child, 96% of new mothers take more than two weeks off work – but fewer than 10% of men take more than two weeks of paternity leave, falling to just 2% among managers.

These results suggest that organisations are culturally less accepting of a father’s rights to take paternity leave. Currently employers are seen to be more supportive of mothers taking up to a year’s maternity leave (63% supportive) than they are of fathers taking just two weeks paternity leave (58% supportive).

Pressure for quick returns

Managers feel a dual pressure to return to work, both for financial reasons, as they are likely to be earning more than their non-managerial counterparts, and because of the expectations of their employer or peers.

We know from the most recent studies into maternity and paternity pay that just nine per cent of new fathers receive full pay for longer than two weeks when on paternity leave, while 70% of new mothers receive full pay between one and 38 weeks.

Disruption levels

Almost half (46%) of the employees we asked and 58% of managers said that parental leave was somewhat disruptive for their organisations. Three quarters of managers (72%) felt parental leave affected the efficiency and productivity of their teams. 

Leave was most disruptive when the absence was covered internally, which most employers opt to do (by sharing the workload across the team or department or by using an internal member of staff to cover the role).

Shared leave

Generally, both managers and non-managers are supportive of all forms of parental leave, including the proposed introduction of shared leave.

Managers in small organisations were shown to be more concerned about parental leave, and felt their employer was slightly less supportive of new shared parental leave proposals (43%) than those working in larger organisations (46%).

Perceived cultural barriers are likely to impede the uptake of the new shared leave proposals, and in fact already are impacting on the uptake of paternity leave, which remains low.

Paternity pay gap

The gender pay gap is reversed when it comes to paid parental leave, with fathers paid significantly less on average by their employers when on leave.

We know from DWP research that while 70% of new mothers receive full pay between one and 38 weeks of maternity leave, just nine per cent of new fathers receive full pay for longer than two weeks when on paternity leave.

This ‘paternity pay gap’ not only creates practical financial barriers to shared parental leave, it also projects a cultural expectation that women will be the only ones taking extended periods away from the workplace, which may halt their career progression, stopping the flow of female talent within organisations.

Getting it right

We know from previous ILM research into gender and ambition that gender gaps in terms of salary and career progress are often associated with female employees taking time out to start a family. Despite changes to legislation on parental leave, there remains an ingrained expectation in many organisations that mothers will take on primary childcare in the first year of a child’s life.

While the introduction of shared leave will clearly pose significant practical challenges for managers and employers, it has the potential to be an important driver of gender diversity. If organisations are serious about realising the benefits of a diverse senior team, and meeting impending Government targets for more gender balanced boards, the introduction of shared leave is a crucial step towards achieving equality in the workplace and enabling more women to progress into senior roles.

Key links and downloads

Shared parental leave infographic

Shared parental leave infographic.

Shared parental leave infographic (opens in a new window).