My Family Care asks Ben: With the introduction of Shared Parental Leave, there is much debate about whether men will in fact take up the offering or whether it will make a difference to women in the workplace. What effect do you think the change will have? In an ideal world, what needs to happen to change the face of parental leave?
Will men take up Shared Parental Leave?
There are a couple of questions here and, as usual, I have some strong opinions...
In simple terms, and let me get this off my chest first:
- The rules around Shared Parental Leave are ridiculously complicated and will create all kinds of difficulties for good, sophisticated employers (i.e. our typical client profile)
- There will be a very, very slow take up
- And the new rules will barely shift the needle in terms of making society more equal.
Now that I've said that, let me tell you the good news
There is plenty of good news, I'm pleased to say. Firstly, Shared Parental Leave is good for fairness between the sexes. Equality is not only 'nice to have', especially as the father of two daughters, but it's also good for UK plc.
It's all about allowing our brightest women to shine through at the expense of, ahem, some of the not-so-bright men. In that context anything that shifts the needle - even slightly - should be embraced.
The government... doing its job?
This is almost a case of the Government acting like it should act. Hooray! They asked the experts, they consulted about what was important; they listened, and now they're putting the consultation into law. If only everything happened like that...
If we're serious about equality, then Shared Parental Leave is an important step. In fact, complicated rules are not necessarily a bad thing. Forcing employers to understand what this all means and to make some changes as a result means the issue has received plenty of air-time. It might be painful but it's also the best way to get everyone sitting up and taking notice.
"Fathers now have the same rights to look after a new baby as mothers". Wow. Put like that it is big news.
Thanks to the complications, more people might hear about it and that's important in shifting the all-important issue of 'company culture'.
So, the numbers might be small initially, but I believe we'll see a slow embrace over the next few years as more fathers realise that being a dad and having a career are not necessarily mutually exclusive.
Mothers have been struggling with that since time immemorial. Giving dads the same challenge is healthy. As one wittier than most HR Director said "now I can't hire men or women!"
Finally, a word about breast-feeding
Sorry, I couldn't resist. There's an argument that says breast feeding is important; only mothers can do that so the idea of dads doing the early part of childcare is nonsense. I think that argument is complete rubbish. And here I'm speaking completely personally.
The French do not believe in breast feeding and they live a lot longer than us Brits. And yes, my kids are half French; they all seem very healthy, and they have never experienced the joys of breast milk.
As a final point, and not that I'm complaining, but I ended up doing at least half of the early parenting in my house. I wouldn't wish it on anyone else, but if I can do it then, well anyone can!
Ben Black, Director, My Family Care