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Additional paternity leave take-up 'has not been a success'

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A year ago, the coalition Government introduced additional paternity leave for fathers of children born on or after 3 April 2011.

This law gives fathers a right to up to six months extra leave, which can be taken once the mother has returned to work, paid at the same standard rate as Statutory Maternity Pay (SMP) – currently £123.06 per week.

The progressive legislation is designed to give working families greater choice and options about how to manage working and bringing up a baby in the early months of life. If a woman is the main breadwinner in a family, it might make financial sense for her to return to work and her partner to take over the child care responsibilities, or parents simply might wish to share the leave and both spend time bonding with the baby.

Last year, Talking Talent surveyed 100 expectant dads to gauge their views about the new legislation. Nearly half (46%) said they would take advantage of the new shared parental leave; however, this has not translated into actual numbers.

Over the past year, we have run seminars for approximately 300 new fathers through our 'New Dad's Programme' coaching programme, but during that time we witnessed only a couple of men keen to take up the additional paternity leave.

Similarly, from what we are hearing from clients, there have been very low levels of take-up of the extended paternity leave across UK organisations. There are several reasons for this.

Unsurprisingly, one of the main barriers to adoption is financial pressure – the economy is still very uncertain and many men don't feel secure enough in their jobs to take an extended leave of absence. Secondly, the extended paternity leave isn't being promoted within many companies, so people aren't aware of their rights and options. Thirdly, as the extended paternity is new, there aren't precedents in organisations. Consequently, men fear going against traditional cultural stereotypes, where the responsibility for childcare traditionally falls to a women and don't want to be the first to pioneer this policy. Men also fear it could damage their earning potential or promotional prospects or send out the wrong message to their employer that they aren't committed to their career. All these factors have created barriers to adoption of the new legislation.

However, there is a great deal that organisations can do to support new fathers who might want to take up the additional paternity leave.

Here are a few thoughts for line managers and fathers opting to take the extended parental leave.

Managers:

· Work towards emulating the best practice around maternity – treat this new legislation in the same way.

· Be aware of what the changes in legislation mean in practice, and how your organisation should respond in terms of policy and practice.

· Be aware of the unconscious bias you may have around what the 'right family model' is. Are you behind men taking this? Or do you veer towards the traditional model?

· How you manage and communicate activity around paternity leave is key. Always keep in mind who the key stakeholders are: the father, other members of staff who work closely with them, their clients and business suppliers.

· If in doubt, always refer to the HR department.

Fathers opting to take the leave:

· Manage both your own and others' expectations around how long you will take off.

· Always remember to communicate how committed you are to your career; that way, people won't make assumptions around your or your partner's career. Keep in mind who your key stakeholders are: line managers, other senior managers, immediate team members etc.

In spite of the low levels of adoption of the legislation, we have seen a greater number of companies putting in place policies and supporting working mothers and fathers over the past year. We have also seen great interest from corporate for our 'New Dad's Programme' coaching programme that supports new fathers and helps them create the right work/life balance.

And, while the adoption of extended paternity leave has been disappointingly low, it is not surprising. Until we see a major cultural change in the British work environment, with family-friendly working policies being embraced and supported throughout the business, very little will change.

Chris Parke (pictured) is co-founder and managing director of executive coaching company, Talking Talent