In the UK fathers are entitled to two weeks statutory paternity leave with up to 26 weeks additional paternity allowed, but only if the mother/co-adopter has returned to work.
However, last year a survey by the Institute of Leadership & Management (ILM) revealed that 25% of new fathers took no paternity leave at all. In fact, only 10% of the employees surveyed took more than their two weeks statutory leave, with this figure falling to just 2% for managers. In comparison 96% of mothers take more than two weeks of maternity leave. So why is the uptake of paternity leave so low?
The ILM's research blames an "ingrained" attitude among employers. Of those surveyed, 63% were supportive of mothers taking up to one year in maternity leave, yet only 58% were supportive of fathers taking just two weeks paternity leave. Fathers are also deterred by fears of receiving reduced pay and their job security if any prolonged period of paternity leave is taken.
Shared Leave Proposals - What are they and what impact will they have?
In April, the UK government will be introducing a new statutory law that will allow parents to share their maternity and paternity leave. This approach is designed to help parents share the load of caring for a newborn, helping fathers play a greater role in the earliest of stages of their child's life while letting the mother return to work earlier than perhaps she would previously have been able to. It also benefits employers - they can keep talented women in their workforce, and improve staff productivity and motivation.
The ILM Chief Executive said: 'The introduction of shared parental leave is a crucial step towards enabling more women to progress into senior roles' - however, the new proposals would have little impact if the attitude of employers is not addressed. There is a cultural expectation that women rather than men will take extended periods away from the workplace to care for a newborn. Low levels of paternity pay do not help matters either, with only 9% of those surveyed able to claim more than two weeks full pay. As Frances O'Grady, security general of the TUC said: 'Many dads simply can't afford to take time off, particularly as employers rarely top up their statutory pay.'
Currently fathers are entitled to one or two weeks paid paternity leave, but additional leave can be given if the mother returns to work and is not claiming statutory maternity pay. The government's plans are supposed to impart a cultural shift, but such things do not happen overnight. Generally speaking those surveyed by the ILM were supportive of all forms of parental leave, including the soon to be introduced shared leave. However, 46% of the employees and 58% of managers found parental leave was somewhat disruptive for their organisations, and 72% managers felt parental leave impacted the efficiency and productivity of their teams.
How can we encourage fathers to take their paternity and parental leave?
One of the main discouraging factors for fathers taking paternity leave is the level of pay whilst on leave and job security fears. If employers in the UK offered better earnings for those who take time off, then the uptake of paternity leave would increase.
For example, Iceland has is one of the most successful countries at getting men to take time off to care for their newborns. Fathers there are entitled to 3 months paternity/parental leave paid at 80% of usual earnings. In 2009, 96 fathers took leave for every 100 mothers and used 99 days compared to 178 days for women. Clearly financial incentives work, but getting employers to universally implement such a scheme without government intervention is a near impossible task.
The shared leave scheme is, in theory, a good idea. It will help break down traditional social attitudes and should in theory improve gender equality in and out of the workplace. If more men feel able to take paternity leave, then childcare will become less associated with gender and lead to a more level playing field for men and women in the workplace. However, other countries have implemented similar schemes and found the uptake of shared leave to be very low.
Unless employers can offer better paid leave of this type for men, it is unlikely the shared leave scheme will have the desired impact. However, if you go back 30-40 years the introduction of enhanced maternity leave was at the time controversial topic. Clearly public opinion has changed as it is now standard practice, so perhaps there is hope that attitudes towards paternity leave will follow a similar path over the next few decades.
What do you think?
Do you think fathers should be entitled to more or less paternity leave, or none at all? Will the government's shared leave proposals have the desired impact and increase the uptake of paternity leave? Will it enable more mothers to return to the workplace?
If not, what else can be done to change the public attitude towards childcare and encourage fathers to take the statutory leave they are entitled to? Should employers offer financial incentives?
Let us know your thoughts in the comments box below.