On deadline day for Gender Pay Gap reporting and the 4th anniversary of the introduction of Shared Parental Leave, Atlas Director Vanessa Pine, spent the morning with Jo Swinson, the former minister responsible for both policies, chatting to dads about their parenting options.
Today is the second annual deadline for gender pay gap reporting. As of 11am, 9,000 firms had submitted their homework, with more than 1,000 leaving it to the very last minute – fellow crammers I see you. Or perhaps the gaps widening for so many firms has led them to seek the protection of the herd.
Today is also the 4th anniversary of the introduction of Shared Parental Leave, one of the things I’m most proud to have worked on as a Special Adviser in government. The fact that these two things happen on the same day is coincidence of political procedure, but the two policies have an incredibly important connection.
Aside from policy, bias and discrimination, the gender pay gap is in part down to workplace cultures that are not parent friendly. Historically women have disproportionally paid that penalty, opting for lower paid part time roles, to give them the flexibility they need to look after little ones.
Shared Parental Leave was the first attempt to really tackle that challenge from the opposite side of the problem. Allowing fathers the opportunity to take more time off with their children. This morning Jo Swinson MP, Deputy Leader of the Lib Dems and architect of the legislation, convened a group of dads to talk about the impact – and the limitations of that policy. Their comments really reveal how much men’s roles at home are the flip side of women’s roles at work.
The parenting penalty
Giles, dad of two, explained “My dad was so absent when I was growing up, I didn’t see him during the week, only at weekends. I felt I missed out and I wanted to over compensate for that when my kids came along. I didn’t take shared parental leave but I wish I could have. Financially for us it just didn’t make sense because of the difference between maternity and paternity pay.”
Nick’s son is one and he has just finished a stint of four months of shared parental leave, describing them as the best months of his life. “I was the third man at my work to take six months off. I got three months statutory and three months unpaid leave so we took a financial hit, but it was a once in a lifetime opportunity. I’ve had so much fun, I loved it. It was also really helpful for my wife to be able to tell her employer she was definitely coming back after six months because I was sharing the leave.”
With firms like O2 and Diageo announcing they will equalise paternity pay, men and women will be increasingly united in making the case for parent friendly work places. It will also force employers to recognise that parental pay and flexibility are more than just up-front costs – they are investments in inclusive workforces that reduce risk, improving productivity, morale and retention rates.
Those battling for greater gender equality at work will be familiar with the challenges of ‘mansplaining’ but are we equally as conscious of the biases we hold when it comes to men doing childcare?
Nick describes his experience of being a man in the female dominated world “you’re something exotic, like a penguin, you walk in and everyone looks at you, like you’re interesting but somewhat out of place…. A woman on the bus told me that I needed to pick up my son because he was grizzling, I explained that he really was fine just tired from a long day. I knew what he needed, she didn’t even know his name. She was only placated when another woman took my side and said - no he’s right.”
Han-Son, whose son is now four and a half, agreed “There is a cultural change happening; we’re re-evaluating what it means to be a man, changing the shape of masculinity. We’re acknowledging men want to give back to their children, but that change still needs a turbo blast.”
Hapless dad to hero dad
Also familiar to those seeking to address gender pay gaps at work, our dad group talked about challenging stereotypes and the power of role models.
Simon’s daughter is now seven, so his five-year stint as a stay at home dad started before shared parental leave was available. Having been back in work for two years he felt strongly about becoming “the flexible working parent. I’m keen to be an obvious dad. I’m really open about taking the time I need for school plays, assemblies, dentist appointments and emergency childcare. Being a working dad is ok, in contrast we need to work harder to remove the stigma of ‘working mother’.”
James, who’s daughters are 8 and 11, went further “when I went part time to look after my kids it was quite a shock for people. I was surprised by how surprising they found it. I was a “hero dad” giving up my career and showing I cared. But none of them had batted an eyelid when my wife had gone part time previously.”
Andrew, bouncing 11 month old Finlay on his knee agreed “I’m not a hero. I didn't know shared parental leave was an option until my wife suggested it, but I did have a friend who was a full time dad. My wife took nine months I took three. It gave me insight into the joy but also the mundanity of looking after a small child: it’s eat, play, sleep, repeat. Until it’s you, you have no idea how precious time to yourself, just to sit for half an hour, can be.”
The experiences of these dads illustrate that the battle for gender equality is a domestic one as well as a workplace one. To close the gender pay gap we need to address both those spheres. In short, we will never have equality at work until we have equality at home. It’s only by rethinking our attitudes towards both parenthood and gender that we will put ourselves on the road to a more equal society. Shared parental leave is one small step for man and one giant leap for womankind.