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Shared parental leave inequalities lead to unpopularity in UK

Twitter’s new CEO, Parag Agrawal, has been celebrated for taking up shared parental leave after the birth of his second child.

The social media firm, headquartered in San Francisco, has what it calls a customisable parental leave programme which includes taking up to 20 weeks of flexible leave.

Yet despite high-profile CEOs such as Agrawal taking up shared parental leave (SPL), there is a lack of appetite for the scheme in the UK.

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Mark Cranshaw, senior associate at law firm Hill Dickinson thinks more business leaders taking parental leave sets a good precedent.

Speaking to HR magazine, he said: “Paternity leave is absolutely essential in my view, not only to form an enduring bond with the newborn baby but also to help and support mothers who more often than not experience trauma and exhaustion (in addition to love of course) in the weeks following childbirth.

“While the introduction of SPL is something that is encouraged, it has yet to really take off and the statutory position and facility in relation to paternity leave alone is very limited, particularly for mothers who may have had complications during childbirth and require additional support with their recovery.”

UK parents can take up to 50 weeks of SPL and up to 37 weeks of statutory pay.

This equates to £151.97 per week, which Samantha Dickinson, equality and diversity partner at Mayo Wynne Baxter says is not enough to encourage a large take-up of the scheme.

Speaking to HR magazine, she said: “Government and businesses should look to Lithuania, Hungary and Iceland where both parents have generous leave and pay entitlements or to Sweden where both parents can divide 480 days of leave between themselves with 90 days off paid at 80% of their regular salary.”   

Ernestine Gheyoh Ndzi, senior law lecturer at York Business School agreed, arguing the scheme was ineffective due to a lack of financial incentive.

He said: “Two weeks [of paid paternity leave] is not enough for a father to come to terms with the changes that happen with the birth of the baby. It gives fathers no time to bond with the baby.

“The massive difference between paternity leave and maternity leave signals the message that fathers are not that important or needed in the early life of the child. Paternity leave should ideally be increased and shared parental leave overhauled is my opinion.”

Yet Dickinson argued men’s reluctance to take leave stems from outdated gendered views on parenting.

She added: “While the Equal Pay Act is 50 years old, it has not brought about true pay parity. Men still tend to be the main earners in most households, so it makes financial sense for them to continue working.

“To achieve true equality, companies must close the gender pay gap as a matter of urgency. It’s time we take a serious look at removing gender bias and consider the progressive approach to parental leave in other countries.”

Parents can be off work together for up to six months or stagger their leave and pay so that one of them is always at home with their baby in the first year.