Shared Parental Leave

Shared Parental Leave – a step to equality

The feelings associated with child related leave are too often ones of guilt, worry and uneasiness. A mother may fear her position and value is less after she’s had a child. A father’s need to spent time with his new born might be deemed unnecessary by others, putting him in an impossible position between his loyalties to his family, and to his workplace. The previous system in place was rigid, and didn’t take into account unique needs of families that simply aren’t as clear cut as they used to be perceived.

These doubts are starting to be alleviated, as the parents of babies born/adopted after the 5th April 2015 are now able to get Shared Parental Leave(SPL). When Nick Clegg announced this change in November 2013, he said the purpose of the new system would be to “challenge the old fashioned assumption that women will always be the parent that stays at home”. The previous system only gave 2 weeks of statutory Paternity leave, and statutory Maternity leave at 52 weeks, with little room for adjustment.

For eligible working parents, the new legislation means that after the initial 2 weeks of maternity leave, the remaining 50 can be split between the two parents, depending on their own personal requirements. Weeks can be taken concurrently, meaning both parents home together for 25 weeks, or flexibly split to their own needs. The mother’s partner is defined as the biological father, or partner of the mother/adopter. When announced, these new measures caused some backlash, with some misunderstanding about workplaces not being able to cope. What’s important to understand is that the length of time and pay remains the same for each child. It now has the flexibility to be split equally between partners indiscriminate of gender and relationship status. It is no longer the government or the workplace calling the shots on the gender roles that workers must fulfil. Any further outcry only suggests that women workers aren’t as missed as their male counterparts, which preys upon outdated misogyny, and an assumption that completely ignores non-heteronormative couples.

Shared Parental Leave is a much needed step to reducing the gender bias surrounding maternal/paternal leave. A bias that benefits neither parent, and causes unspoken workplace tension. Women may feel that having a child is simply an inconvenience to the company, and therefore to their own career prospects, with the fear of being passed over for promotions or even made redundant. For fathers and partners, the option of shared leave means acknowledging shared responsibility – a notion far away from the stereotype of women as caregivers and men as breadwinners. With more and more LGBT awareness, we are currently redefining what family means. Therefore how we approach parental leave is changing, as the issue is no longer seen as a female problem. It is a parent issue, no matter the circumstances.

Perhaps this change in leave practices could lead to greater changes. The wage gap typically becomes more pronounced after maternity, due to part-time work, being passed over for promotion and bias. By reducing the stigma around parenthood and making time off available equally to everyone, we are one step closer to a fairer, equal workplace. The event of a baby on the way no longer bringing feelings of guilt, worry and uneasiness but rather shared responsibility and joy.

Elizabeth Hurst
Writer and Researcher at Empiric.