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How to tackle parental leave stigma for fathers

Lydia Smith
Writer, Yahoo Finance UK
Fathers face some persistent social stigmas when taking time away from work after the birth of a child. Photo: Getty

There are huge number of benefits when it comes to sharing parental leave. Not only does it offer women more opportunity to take control of their career progression, it allows both parents to be active when it comes to caring for their children.

Paternity leave is the time you can take off to support your partner – if you’re an employee, you’re entitled to either one or two weeks of paid paternity leave.

Despite this, though, the number of men taking paternity leave is continuing to fall, suggests research. Approximately 31% of eligible new fathers used paternity leave in the last year, compared with 32% in the previous year, according to recent research by the law firm EMW.

Part of the problem is that for self-employed men, there is no statutory paternity pay – which means many can’t afford to take unpaid time off. Prejudice is another major problem. A 2018 survey of 2,000 people found nearly half (49%) of male respondents believe there is a societal stigma attached to taking shared parental leave, and that it is not considered the normal course of action for men to take.

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Why does stigma exist?

Research suggests that fathers face some persistent social stigmas and old-fashioned attitudes when taking time away from work after the birth of a child. For example, that the mother should be the one to take time off – and that fathers who want to aren’t committed “career men”.

“As it’s such early days for shared parental leave, we hear men are concerned that their leaders won’t think they’re taking their career seriously,” says Caroline Strachan, founder of Women At Work, a platform aiming to help women reach their highest potential by being part of a supportive network.

“Children tend to arrive during that critical stage in a career when you need to be ready to press the ‘go button’ and you can’t do that if you’re on leave – or so men and companies think,” she adds.

“I’ve seen the complete opposite in Sweden. It’s entirely normal that both men and women take their shared parental leave so both are cycling in and out of the workplace, a promotion may come up that is perfect for someone on leave, they are appointed and start when they return.”

What can we do to reduce stigma?

If you want to take leave to care for your child, Strachan advises being honest and open about why. “Be very clear about why they’re taking leave and keep this as their stock answer,” she says.

Bill Richards, managing director at global job site Indeed, comments: “One way of encouraging more men to take parental leave is to make them feel more comfortable taking advantage of the time off. Managers and leaders could also set examples by taking parental leave themselves.

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“By offering a paid parental leave program employers can send a clear message that they care about the wellbeing of their employees and families that drive their business.”

Earlier this year, Deloitte announced it would be doubling paid leave from two to four weeks for any of the firm’s “non-birthing parents” – otherwise known as paternity leave.

“Our inclusive culture is led by example with Deloitte leaders advocating and taking leave themselves; and we encourage all our parents-to-be to take the full leave,” says Sharron Pamplin, partner for HR at Deloitte.

“We recently worked with Daddilife – a leading online community for modern-day dads – which involved surveying millennial fathers about their work. Our research showed that more dads than ever before (58%) are now actively involved in day to day parenting and are looking for workplace flexibility which is still not currently provided by the majority of UK employers.

“We continue to listen to our people and cultural trends, and we hope our policies will reflect a changing workforce.”

Why does sharing parental leave benefit everyone?

Sharing parental leave has obvious benefits for women. One key factor is that it levels the playing field for women in the workplace, allowing women to return to work or work more hours, increasing their chances of getting up the career ladder.

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“If both parents were to share parental leave there would be less expectation that women may take a break at some point and thus diminishing any discrimination they may face,” says Strachan. “If both men and women were expected to take parental leave at any time, this barrier would be removed for women.”

Also equality and fairness demands that both parents should be given the opportunity to spend time with their newborn.

“When men take paternity leave, they’re more engaged as fathers and develop stronger bonds with their children,” Richards says. “Employers who encourage dads to take parental leave would not only promote a healthier father-child relationship but also improve employment opportunities and pay for women.”