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Cultural and financial barriers could impede shared parental leave

Ingrained cultural prejudices in UK workplaces, combined with financial barriers, may hinder the uptake of shared parental leave, according to a new study.

Different expectations, different outcomes

The report from the Institute of Leadership and Management pointed out the stark differences between the leave that mothers and fathers take following the birth of a child, and the leave pay they receive.

Almost all women (96 per cent) take more than two weeks off work after the birth or adoption of a child, but fewer than one in ten men do the same - falling to just one in fifty managers.

In fact, employees perceive that employers are more supportive of mothers taking a year's maternity leave (63 per cent supportive), than fathers taking just two weeks off (58 per cent).

The report said the results suggested that organisations are culturally less accepting of a father's right to take paternity leave.

Then there's the paternity pay gap. Official figures tell us that 70 per cent of mothers receive full pay between 1 and 38 weeks of maternity leave, while just 9 per cent of fathers get full pay for longer than two weeks.

The gap not only creates a financial barrier, but puts an expectation on fathers to get back to work quickly - as well as projecting 'a cultural expectation' that women should be the only ones to take extended leave away from the workplace, the report said.

Shared parental leave

What this means for shared parental leave when it's introduced in April 2015 remains to be seen, though it's argued that one of its purposes is to dismantle the structures and expectations that seem to make it so much harder for fathers to take time away for childcare.

Shared parental leave aims to give parents more flexibility about how they choose to balance their work and caring commitments following the birth of a child. Mothers will be able to end their maternity leave early, and use the remaining time as a shared period that can be taken by either parent individually in alternating blocks or by both of them together.

Shared parental leave has 'the potential to be an important driver of gender diversity', the report said, but it would have to overcome 'an ingrained expectation' that mothers will take on primary childcare in the first year of a child's life.

Acas publications and services

Acas offers detailed advice on Parental Leave and Paternity leave and pay. Its experts can visit your organisation and help you find ways to improve the experiences of working parents. See Parents and carers: how Acas can help for details.

Practical training is also offered on Maternity, paternity and adoption, Flexible working, and Equality, diversity and the Equality Act 2010.

For free, impartial advice on related areas, call the Acas Helpline on 0300 1223 1100.

Visit the Acas Training and Business Solutions area for more information.


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