Extending fathers’ parental leave to help address the paternity paradox

Here at Talking Talent, we fully support and back the latest news that Theresa May wants to extend paternity leave as part of her legacy plans. Whilst some organisations do offer more generous packages (less than 10% of businesses), and Diageo are pioneering equality for both parents by offering fully paid 26-week equal parental leave, there is still a way to go. We believe that organisations need to do more to support working parents – and we want to empower organisations to do this. Nobody should have to choose between being good at their job and being a good parent – but it’s clear that there’s a long way to go to help ease the balance, especially for working dads.

Research we conducted with Censuswide has highlighted that men now face a paternity paradox of wanting successful careers and being devoted fathers, experiencing the same difficulties that women have encountered for generations when it comes to balancing work and children. More time off would allow men – who can currently only take one or two weeks’ paternity leave – to bond with their babies and support new mothers, whilst promoting gender equality.

Historically, the focus has swayed towards working mothers – with fathers too often being excluded from the conversation. However, making extended paternity leave a business standard would help alleviate the negative impact that shared parental leave (SPL), designed to allow couples to share leave, has had on fathers. Our research has revealed that:

  • Half (51%) of respondents thought that fathers who took shared parental leave would experience a detrimental effect on their careers
  • 53% of fathers feared judgement if they chose shared parental leave, versus 34% of mothers
  • As a result, 51% of fathers wouldn’t want to share parental leave, versus 41% of mothers.

Gender equality shouldn’t mean that being a working parent has to be as hard for men as it has been in the past for women – and we believe that men should be able to take more time off to bond with their newborn and adjust to their whole new reality together as a family, without having to share. However, unless Paternity Leave Pay can at least offer 90% of a dad’s salary for the first four weeks of parental leave, it’s unlikely to have any take-up – and could, in fact, be a barrier, depending on wage.

Here, employers will also have an opportunity to offer enhanced paternity pay, to further support working dads through their transition to fatherhood and increase staff retention.

We also believe that extended parental leave should not be means-tested, or exclude high earners from the same benefits as other parents: all fathers should have the same right to time off with their children, no matter what they earn.

With the UK being one of the least family-friendly of the world’s richest countries, and Britain’s entitlement to paternity pay and leave for fathers being particularly low by international standards, it’s clear that more needs to be done by UK businesses to champion working dads. With the right support, the relationship between parenthood and professional success can be mutually beneficial – whilst employers have a crucial role to play in supporting employees throughout – and beyond – their transition to parenthood.

We often talk about the penalties brought by motherhood, but it’s time we start talking about – and addressing – the fatherhood penalty too. Extending parental leave is just one way of doing this.

Chris Parke, Co-founder, and CEO, Talking Talent