The Diversity Series: One for the Dads...

New fathers in the workplace represent a working group whose family-friendly rights have not necessarily kept up with the pace of societal change.

The introduction of shared parental leave (SPL) in 2015 was hoped to inspire a societal shift in gender stereotypes around the roles of men and women at home and at work and reflect modern working families. Yet take-up of SPL is low: data shows that only 1% of new parents used SPL in 2018 and there has been little advancement in the rights available for new fathers since its introduction.

The problems with the current rights for new fathers:

  • Lack of awareness: When I speak to friends who are approaching the birth of their child, most haven’t heard of SPL or understand how it works. Clients also report that they receive enquiries about SPL, but the take-up rate remains low.
  • Administrative headache: The SPL regime itself can be confusing and administratively burdensome, for both the employer and the employee.
  • Unaffordable: Availability of enhanced pay for SPL and paternity leave is much less common for fathers than it is for mothers – meaning that the rate of pay is often a barrier for low income families.
  • The stigma: Men have reported facing a stigma for requesting or taking leave to care for their child. Statistics also show that fathers are more likely to have their flexible working requests denied than working mothers.
  • Lack of protection: Fathers do not have the same statutory protections that mothers do, as there is no standalone protection from discrimination for paternity leave under the Equality Act. 
Is change on the way?

Back in March 2018, the Women and Equalities Committee (WEC) published a report on Fathers in the Workplace. The report suggested that the current rights to request flexible working and take SPL have not created the cultural change in the workplace that was intended to allow fathers to share care in the child’s first year. The WEC made a number of recommendations for the Government to bring about change, including: 

  • Increasing statutory paternity pay to 90% of salary to ensure fathers, regardless of income, take the time they want around their child’s birth; 
  • The Government should consider replacing SPL with a new policy of 12 weeks’ dedicated leave for fathers in their child’s first year; 
  • The Government should consider adding a new protected characteristic of ‘paternity’ under the Equality Act protections. 

In the Government’s response to the WEC report, it acknowledged that it needs to reform workplace policies to support fathers to better balance their parental responsibilities. It also said that it wants to “enable families to share caring roles more easily and equitably to deliver positive employment outcomes”. But the Government did not take forward any of the WEC’s recommendations and instead, committed to research how best to implement support for working fathers.

In July 2019, the Government published a new consultation seeking views on proposals to better support parents to balance work and family-life. The Government stated that “more could be done to better balance the gender division of parental leave and pay between parents” and it needs to do more to tackle gender inequality at home, but it believes that “cultural change takes time” and SPL is a new regime which needs time to work. 

What next? 

The Government is currently evaluating the SPL regime and we expect a report on its findings later this year. The ongoing Government consultation also closes in Autumn 2019 and so it will be some time before we receive the Government’s response, let alone any tangible changes to the rights afforded to new fathers.

In the meantime, the WEC and other bodies continue to press for reform and it falls to employers to help bring about cultural change. Workplace culture can influence attitudes towards shared parenting and employers can improve culture and remove stigma by letting their workforce know about options available for family-related leave and positively encouraging opportunities for flexible working, for both men and women.

As the Government acknowledges in the recent consultation, “Supporting working parents to combine work with childcare not only helps individual parents, it also helps the people they work for: employers have access to a wider pool of talent and are better able to cultivate and retain that talent”.