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Pandemic highlights need for gender inclusive parental leave

Volvo's announcement of 24 weeks paid parental leave for all genders highlights the shift in business mindset when it comes to employee benefits.

The Family Bond policy gives employees with at least one year’s service 24 weeks leave at 80% of their base pay by default. And it is an example of just one of the ways companies are seeking to provide better care for employees with co-dependents, both prior-to and as a result of the pandemic.

Laurel Dines, HR director at recruiter Randstad UK, said the move should encourage more employers to be gender inclusive with their parental leave.

She told HR magazine: “Volvo’s new policy is rooted in diversity and inclusion, which is critical to successful business performance. 

“We need to celebrate the personality and lifestyle of our people, creating the right environment for individuals to have meaningful careers - make them feel valued so they give their best.”

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Dines said the COVID-19 pandemic has given HR the opportunity to reimagine the workplace and our working practices. 

She said: “Jobs that we never imagined could be done outside of an office have been successfully performed remotely - it's forced most employers into a gigantic experiment. 

“While some employees are nervous about asking to vary their contracts or take time out when so many of their colleagues have lost their jobs, others have reassessed what is important in life - from family and work-life balance to how, where, and when they want to work.”


Childcare is gender-neutral  

Work-life balance charity Working Families said Volvo’s new programme highlighted the importance of a good work-life balance for parents.

Speaking to HR magazine Jane van Zyl, chief executive of Working Families, said having time away from work to care for a new baby is just as important for fathers and partners as it is for mothers.

She said: “It’s high time we moved past the out-dated notion that family caring responsibilities are something only women care about.

“We’ve seen a large spike in fathers asking for help to understand how they can access shared parental leave since the COVID-19 pandemic began in March 2020.”

Van Zyl said Working Families have called for Shared Parental Leave to be reformed, so all new fathers and partners are entitled to an additional 12 weeks of paid leave.

“We want to see more employers effectively supporting their employee parents, that’s 13 million people in the UK today, and reap the brilliant business rewards that come along with it,” she said.


A magnet for attracting diverse talent

Dev Modi, partner of inclusive leadership advisory at consultancy Equiida, said companies that offer gender inclusive parental leave will make them a magnet for attracting and retaining diverse talent, regardless of their parental status. 

He told HR magazine: “Diversity of thought is key to unlocking creativity, vital for success in any industry, but especially in a hyper-competitive industry which is going through unprecedented change. 

“Not only will this policy build a more inclusive culture and environment within the company but will also create the conditions within which diverse talent can find belonging and thrive.”

However, Modi said without an inclusive culture in the workplace, policies such as Volvo’s will not be enough to create an inclusive workplace.

“To unlock the power of difference, leaders at the very top of the organisation will need to role model what it means to be inclusive leaders by not penalising employees for taking time with their families during those critical early years, but rather encourage it visibly and vocally,” he said. 

For complete inclusivity employers should take parental leave and opt out not opt in, explained Modi.

He said: “Senior leaders need to create a psychologically safe environment for all genders to share their fears around taking time out of work for parental leave and provide reassurance and encouragement so that this is not seen as a negative but cherished.”