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Shared parental leave gaining momentum

Shared parental leave is growing in popularity, but mass take-up is not without obstacles

Despite a slow start the government’s shared parental leave legislation is growing in popularity, according to a survey by My Family Care. More than a third of organisations surveyed said they had experienced some level of interest, indicating that momentum is building for the policy.

The research, conducted at a think-tank event held by My Family Care, found that 43% of companies are enhancing shared parental leave in line with their maternity benefits, and 33% are at least considering enhancing benefits if they find that the impact is positive. Just 12% said they do not intend to enhance benefits at all for the foreseeable future.

Ben Black, director at My Family Care, said: “These results reveal just how effective shared parental leave has been so far and answer the question: 'has it been the cultural change people were all clamouring for?' The answer is 'not yet,' but the future looks very bright, with many companies enhancing their paternity leave in line with their maternity benefits and 38% of HRDs seeing momentum building already.”

However, Black also flagged up a problem with the policy yet to be overcome. “If we are going to reach true gender equality in the workplace it is fathers in leadership positions that need to be open about balancing their work and family, and unafraid to break the mould of their predecessors.”

Black’s comments are echoed in the statistics collected by My Family Care, which reveal that 60% of HR directors had received a negligible (sometimes zero) number of shared parental leave requests. A common reason for this, according to the organisation, is a cultural perception that fathers should not take extended periods of time off because of the risk to their careers, with 41% saying this was the biggest obstacle.

Accenture UK & Ireland HR director Sam Clark told HR magazine that her organisation has received 22 applications for SPL to date, a number she expects to increase.

"It will undoubtedly take time for the cultural change that SPL brings to be fully felt as attitudes about parental leave shift and awareness increases," she said. "The return of early SPL adopters to work is likely to be a turning point as other employees hear about their positive experiences. If businesses communicate the real life benefits effectively more of their staff are likely to consider SPL as a viable option."

Clark added: "New fathers and mothers expect an equal chance to be involved in the upbringing of their children, meaning an effective shared parental leave offering will be a powerful tool in the battle to attract and retain the best talent."

On developing a successful SPL policy, Clark offered the following advice for HR directors: "Consult as many different stakeholders as possible; be it existing parents, new parents or senior management. This will ensure that the offering meets expectations of employees and is sustainable for the business in the long term. Once the policy is in place it’s important to ensure that all staff are made aware of what is offered through various communications channels."