The introduction of shared parental leave (SPL) and sharing parental pay (ShPP) was meant to revolutionize the world of working parents creating a culture where shared caring is the norm. In reality we continue to live in a world where women remain the main carer and the parenthood penalty is almost exclusively a female issue.
In 2017 the UK Office of National Statistics (ONS) published a study which indicated that there had been a "marked increase in the number of fathers who have young children working part-time - it has almost doubled from 3.9% in 1997 to 6.9% in 2017." In comparison 25% of women worked part-time in 2017. While this is a large increase in fathers working part time the majority of this change is being driven by the charity and public sectors. A similar statistic for corporate employers would be less than 1%. This is reinforced by a 2018 report from the UK government Women's and Equality Committee noted that policies put in place to support fathers in the workplace, such as SPL, are not leading to the culture change expected.
So why, despite an underlying societal desire for shared caring, the take up of part time working amongst secondary carers (usually men) remains so stubbornly low. When talking to men who are just about to be fathers or have just had a young child there is definite a view that they would like to take on an equal caring responsibility and there is also an important recognition that their partners' career is equal to their own.
So what is holding back the change to shared caring in the corporate world;
1. Lack of part-time working male real models
While there is increased involvement of men in the lives of their children, whether it is dropping them off at school a few days per week or attending the school concert, finding a man who works part-time in the corporate world is like finding a women of color on a Board -- a rare beast. For the same reason that women almost automatically discount themselves from becoming CEO a man will go through a similar process of when thinking about working less hours because in both cases there are few visible real models.
Those men who are accessing flexibility are mainly doing so via informal flexibility. Whether that is putting imaginary meetings in calendars or simply just arriving earlier or later - men seem to understand that if you flex under the radar no one seems to mind. This in theory is great until we get to the inevitable absolute that exists around having caring responsibilities -- someone needs to be physically there, each and every time. By accessing informal flexibility men are increasing their involvement in shared care but in a relatively uncommitted way which means that women remain burdened with the commitment part of the shared caring and are more likely to ask for formal flexibility to ensure that there is someone there to pick up the kids or take an elderly parent to an appointment. If more fathers were to access formal part-time working then shared caring could become the norm as both parents would be able to flex just enough to give their families the balance they need without one parent being the one who is downsizing (or even giving up) their career. So what we need are some first movers to create real models that others can aspire to, which is what SPL was supposed to create....
2. Unequality between Maternity Pay and ShPP
Despite a bit fan fair at its introduction the take up of SPL remains stubbornly low. SPL was introduced to provide an opportunity to for men increase their participation in early years care creating an important emotional and physical bond with the child but also equally encouraging a shift in household and caring responsibilities to allows a fairer distribution of the mental and physical load. A type of bottom up cultural change. It was hoped by many that this would then lead to increased take up of formal flexible working, including part-time hours, by men. One of the key reasons that the take-up of SPL has been low is continued disparity between maternity pay and ShPP in many organisations. It just doesn't make financial sense to give up the higher level of maternity pay. Another reason is just how complicated SPL is to organize - it involved both parents and their employers and this level of bureaucracy and effort can seem insurmountable to many soon to be parents.
In order for us to make corporate workplaces that work for co-caring fathers two major changes need to take place;
1. Men need to be increasingly willing to step up and take the parenthood penalty and access formal flexibility - thereby creating real models for those who follow.
2. Corporate employers need to remove any disparity between maternity pay and ShPP thereby reducing the disincentive that currently exists in taking SPL.
All opinions are solely my own and do not express the views or opinions of my employer.