Families and caring arrangements seem to change with each generation. The days of mothers being expected to leave their work and careers in order to stay at home and take on the lion’s share of care and family responsibilities are now, thankfully, no longer the norm. One of the great things about today’s society and its approach to family is the flexibility and choice that now exists, enabling parents to structure care in a way that best suits their family.
When shared parental leave (SPL) came into effect in April last year, there was much speculation about potential levels of take up among working fathers. In one camp, were those who applauded the fact that fathers now have the opportunity to take the time to spend with their new family. In the other, were those who questioned how many in practice would actually take this up due to the potentially negative ramifications of doing so.
More than a year after SPL came into effect, it seems that the latter group appears to have been right, at least so far. Figures released by law firm EMW earlier this week, following a freedom of information request, however, show that just 3,000 new parents received a shared parental leave payment in the first three months of this year.
While all new initiatives naturally take a while to bed in and require a certain amount of awareness raising before they are fully understood and utilised by individuals, anecdotally, there is also often talk about the stigma some men perceive to be attached to SPL. Specifically, many have openly admitted to concerns about how taking SPL will be perceived by their employer, particularly when it comes to their commitment to their career, desire to progress and levels of ambition. This is something that will sound all too familiar to many working mothers.
Countries such as Sweden, where all new fathers are given 90 days paid leave on a use-it-or-lose-it basis (meaning they cannot transfer their allocation to their partner), are leading the way when it comes to paternity leave. And there are a number of lessons others can learn from its approach.
In my mind, there is no question that family life and achieving a good work-life balance should be a priority for employees and employers alike. However, if we are to achieve this fully, we first need to address how to turn around negative perceptions of time spent away from the workplace to focus on family.