Could extending paternity leave help reduce the UK's gender pay gap?

The UK government recently announced it had no plans to increase paternity leave and pay.

The UK currently allows for the least generous paternity leave policy in Europe: two weeks paid at a set rate of £172 a week, just 44% of the national living wage.

However, research shows that increasing entitlement to paternity leave and pay could help close the gender pay gap and increase UK economic output by up to £23 billion. Specifically, there is a 4% decrease in the gender wage gap and a 3.7% smaller labour force participation gap in countries with more than six weeks of paid paternity leave.

UK workers want longer paternity leave

At QBE, we recently conducted some of our own research and found that workers across the UK want the length of paternity leave to at least double in duration. When asked how much paternity leave they had taken, eligible UK fathers said they took three weeks on average. However, when they were asked how long they think fathers should have with their newborns, both men and women want more than two and half times this amount, at seven weeks.

While some progress has been made to reduce pay gaps, challenges remain. Attitudes and expectations around parental leave are clearly changing.

Benefits like equalised parental leave help challenge traditional gender roles both at home and at work, and address some of the barriers, perceived or otherwise, to career progression. This in turn can help close the gender pay gap and increase equity in leadership.

Every business faces its own set of challenges but employers can take incremental steps as their own circumstances allow. They may consider enhancing parental leave policies by just one week to start; any change in the number of weeks offered can make a difference to families.

We know we need to push the needle with meeting people’s expectations, and in some cases we need to exceed expectations to truly drive change.

As a broader commitment to diversity and inclusion, we made several updates to our UK benefits including enhanced paternity leave in 2023. In a bold move, all QBE employees in the UK can now receive 26 weeks at full pay and up to 52 weeks’ leave, regardless of gender identity, sexual orientation or how they become a parent.

Low paternity pay makes fathers reluctant to take leave

QBE is delighted with the positive impact equalised parental leave is already having on our people, and we hope our first year can serve as a model, demonstrating that progressive structures and systems and internal policy change can effectively support workplace equality.

Over the first year of QBE’s equalised parental leave policy, 56 fathers have taken up parental leave with 73% of those taking 22 weeks or more of full pay. An additional five men have taken over six months of parental leave, benefitting from extra time at home with their child beyond the paid allowance.

The average length of paternity leave taken at QBE rose from 8.6 days in 2022 to 150 days in 2023.

Some of our fathers are just returning to work this month, and we are hearing what a positive difference this leave had made for them and their families. Providing the right options like equal parental leave has a positive impact on gender equality more generally, reflecting the needs of dual career families, as time away from work to care for a child can be more equally split. 

Breaking down gender stereotypes and challenging the norms around who raises children in the home is a key piece of the puzzle.

Government urged to prioritise "overdue" paternity leave reforms

As employers, I believe we have a role to play to raise our game and offer the policies that will remove barriers and help attract the next generation of professionals. Extending paternity leave is one such lever.

HR professionals are increasingly recognising the importance of enhanced paternity and equal parental leave and the key role they play in working to change stereotypes by adapting policies.

By Nikki Lees, people director, culture and employee experience at QBE Europe