10 years ago, my second child turned out to be twins. The cost of childcare for three children was astronomical, so my husband gave up work to become a full-time dad. It was a practical decision, but it wasn’t an easy one.
Being a stay-at-home dad 10 years ago wasn’t unheard of, but it certainly wasn’t the norm. My husband enjoyed his time with the children. But being the only man in a soft play session can be isolating.
We often heard the term ‘daddy daycare’, which became infuriating. When do you ever hear ‘mummy daycare’? While reactions were largely positive, there was something a little remarkable about our situation.
In 2010, research carried out by Aviva suggested that just 6% of UK dads took on the role of main childcare provider.
Thankfully the tide is turning. Whether it’s David Beckham holding his daughter’s hand or Daniel Craig wearing a papoose, we’re familiar with the concept of hands-on dads. It’s (daddy) cool to be seen pushing the pram. For a moment, on that celebrity news feed, mums and dads are equal.
But for those of us who aren’t multi-millionaires, when there’s a new mouth to feed, someone usually needs to go out to work. And when it comes to equality in the business world, there’s still some catching up to do.
Shared parental leave – a new opportunity
In April 2015 the UK government introduced new rights which allow parents to share leave following the birth or adoption of a child. This means up to 50 weeks of leave - of which 37 weeks is paid - can usually be shared.
In theory, this was a positive step forward for equality. Dads were no longer restricted to a mere two weeks of paternity leave and could take on a bigger chunk of the childcare. Women could return to work sooner if they wished, and dads could spend precious time with their children.
In The Sunday Times, Personal Finance Deputy Editor Ruth Emery speaks of ‘a blissful five weeks together as a family’. She was able to take paid holiday at the start of her husband’s tranche of shared parental leave.
But the uptake of shared parental leave has been low. Statistics from the Department of Business suggest just 2% of fathers are making use of the policy.
In Emery’s words: “Mum gets a generous income while on maternity leave, but Dad receives a pittance if he takes shared parental leave.”
Emery suggests this could be down to finances. Most women benefit from enhanced maternity pay, while many organisations only pay the statutory amount for shared parental leave - £145.18 a week or 90% of average weekly earnings.
There’s a lack of knowledge too. Aviva research carried out in June 2018 found 46% of working dads hadn’t heard of shared parental leave.
Time to level the playing field…
Fundamentally, it’s not (yet) in our culture for dads to take much time off when a new child arrives. But if it was, would they want to?
In November 2017 Aviva took the bold step to introduce a group-wide policy to equalise parental leave for all employees. In the UK this means all parents can take up to 12 months off including six months at full basic pay.
Of the 228 UK dads who made use of Aviva’s parental leave policy in the first 10 months, two thirds took six months away from work. So, while it may not be a universal norm just yet, there’s certainly a desire from dads to spend time with their children during the special first months.
Anthony Fitzpatrick, Employee Relations and Global Policy Lead for Aviva says: “If there was ever a view that fathers are unwilling to take time out of work for their families, the response to our equal parental leave smashes this. The uptake has been phenomenal, even surpassing our expectations. If organisations are serious about creating true equality in the workplace, the message here is loud and clear. By providing greater financial certainty and by equalising leave for every parent regardless of gender we can effect both cultural and societal change.”
How many Aviva employees have taken up the shared parental leave scheme in the first 10.5 months?
Baby steps in the right direction
To me, it’s no surprise that parents want to spend time with their families. Perhaps more surprising, in today’s environment, is how more and more dads are putting their careers on hold to look after their children.
Since Aviva introduced its parental leave policy, others have followed. Jupiter Asset Management introduced six months of paid parental leave for all employees in May 2018, while The Telegraph group did the same in September 2018.
There are murmurings of a movement, albeit a slow one.
There’s still work to be done to bring about true equality in the workplace. The Cranfield FTSE Report highlights female under representation in executive ranks in the FTSE 350. The gender pay gap is a constant reminder that there are more men than women in senior roles.
If we’re going to change our culture then parental leave is a pretty good place to start.
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