Hot on the heels of my recent post on the uptake of shared parental leave (“SPL”), a further study has revealed that almost half of fathers surveyed* have been victims of discrimination at work after taking SPL. Despite ‘equality’ being a buzz word in the modern workforce, I am not surprised by the results.

Those of you that read my previous post on SPL will have an understanding of how it works. For those of you that missed this, let me give you a brief overview:

  • SPL was created with a view to move towards greater gender equality and to reflect       the changes observed in the modern workforce.
  • SPL was introduced under the Children and Families Act 2014 as an optional leave        scheme for new parents following the birth of their child up until the child’s first birthday.
  • New parents can share up to 50 weeks of leave and up to 37 weeks of pay. Note,            under the existing system, SPL can only be taken when the mother gives up part of       her maternity leave.
  • SPL is now currently paid at the rate of £148.68 a week or 90% of a parent’s average weekly wage (whichever is lower).
  • SPL can be taken in blocks to fit around a new parent’s working pattern or it can be       taken in one go. Parents can also choose to be off work together.

The results of the survey are concerning, with only 14% of fathers taking SPL since its creation – but how likely are fathers to take SPL when 8 out of 10 have experienced cultural stigma and discrimination for doing so? Unfortunately, the findings are consistent with previous responses to the House of Commons Women and Equality Committee’s Inquiry launched in 2017, where males described being faced with a ‘macho’ culture and demeaning comments from colleagues in the context of childcare duties.  

Attitudes like this reinforce the outdated gender stereotypes of the male ‘breadwinner’ and highlight a cultural issue in the workplace - and in wider society - which still need to be addressed. These behaviours may be more prevalent within certain businesses or sectors but the message from the recent findings is that there is still a long way to go towards achieving equality for fathers.

Whilst workplace attitudes remain a big problem, pay disparity between males and females is also likely to have some bearing on the uptake of SPL – with financial strain acting as a disincentive for many fathers. As SPL means a mother losing part of her maternity leave, fathers are likely to be further deterred from exercising their right to SPL where the mother’s employer provides enhanced maternity pay.

Although financial constraints also go some way to explaining poor uptake of SPL, 88% of fathers surveyed believe having the option to work more flexibly would help them spend more time caring for their children. Employers clearly have a big role to play in facilitating flexible working options for staff. Paying lip service to gender equality will not suffice – a genuine shift in attitudes, both at management level and throughout the workplace is needed to give fathers the opportunity to spend more time with their children and enjoy a better work life balance. The benefit to employers is that staff are likely to feel more valued which often leads to increased productivity.

It is clear that the solution is not a simple one. Achieving equality for mothers and fathers requires a cohesive approach from the government and employers, as well as a big shift in cultural attitudes. The problem cannot be solved overnight – but the survey findings suggest a supportive employer with family friendly policies could go some way to helping fathers utilise SPL.

*based on a survey of 1,000 working dads, conducted by 4Media Group

For more information on SPL, please contact me at laura.pointon@brabners.com or another a member of our Employment Team who will be happy to assist.