Employers: Your challenge for 2017.................

Kathryn Nawrockyi,  Business in the Community Gender Equality Director calls for Shared Parental Leave to be normalised.

Last week the charity Working Families published its 2017 Modern Families Index, with the headline finding that nearly half (47%) of working fathers want to downshift to a less stressful job because they’re struggling to balance the demands of work and family, and 38% said they’d take a pay cut for a better work-life balance. For Millennial fathers, the figures are even higher at 53% and 48% respectively.

The charity suggests that this risks creating a ‘fatherhood penalty’, mirroring the employment and pay problems already experienced by mothers who take low-paid, part-time jobs to manage their caring responsibilities. But it could actually represent a significant opportunity for employers to commit to making Shared Parental Leave (SPL) work for all their employees.

Our research shows that, although SPL take-up amongst eligible men is around 30%, there are still significant barriers, including financial constraints. Often it’s far more viable for the lowest earner – usually the mother – to give up work, yet our survey shows employees whose organisations offers enhanced pay feel more confident their employer can support SPL. So matching SPL with maternity pay and effectively communicating this policy would demonstrate employers are serious about encouraging uptake.

However, this is not just a case of throwing money at the problem. Instead, it needs employers to create an inclusive culture where neither men nor women feel nervous about the impact of parenthood on their career, but instead are fully supported before, during and after their leave. That means training for managers and visible endorsement of SPL by senior leaders. Many of our members are leading in creating SPL policies that work – including Accenture, Addleshaw Goddard, Shell and EY – and we’d encourage other employers to learn from their example.

Finally, shared caring responsibilities shouldn’t be restricted to the first year of a child’s life. Last year, a survey found 54% of people think flexible working would be more valuable to parents than SPL, but our Project 28-40 survey found that flexible workers were often viewed as less committed and less likely to progress at similar rates to their full-time colleagues. By normalising flexible working patterns for all employees, employers will show their commitment to achieving gender equality in the workplace and to retaining talent even after parents return to work.

So our call to employers is this: take up the challenge of normalising SPL for all parents in 2017. Business has a huge part to play in tackling the stigma and changing attitudes towards sharing parental leave and childcare for future generations – and now is the time to start. By taking a structural approach to culture change, they will ensure both women and men are able to have equal lives at work and at home.