What we told the Treasury Inquiry on Women and Finance

The average cost of childcare across the UK ranges from £213/week for a registered childminder to £512/week plus tax and NI for nannies, with nurseries sitting in between. In London, our financial centre, the cost rises to £276/week for a childminder, £278/week for a day nursery and £616 plus tax and NI for a nanny (50 hours/week). [Source: Family and Childcare Trust]. This means a family living in London, working full time with one child, without access to free childcare – provided by a grandparent for example – needs to earn a minimum of £14,352 (childminder cost) after tax and the cost of commuting, simply to break even.

Many families take the view that it is better to make the financial sacrifice in the early years in order to keep both careers on track, rather than suffer the huge financial and career penalties that are known to accrue to women who take large chunks of time out. For example, see the work of Mary Gregory and Sarah Connolly.

The financials are only one part of the childcare story though. Women in financial services are often married to men in financial services and herein lies a big problem. Of the hundreds of women we have talked with in financial services who are returning post maternity or a longer career break, many talk about their husbands/partners feeling unable to be as ‘active’ a father as they are a mother. This is because there simply isn’t encouragement for fathers, or men more generally, to work part time or set boundaries about finish times (to collect children from nursery for example) and when they can or can’t travel. This problem becomes more acute the more senior they become and both planned and unplanned (last minute) facetime with clients involving travel (often international) intensifies. We’ve coached many women in financial services who talk about needing to swap roles once they become a mother because they can’t see a way to continue in a ‘demanding’ role and be back in time for when the nursery closes or the nanny needs to leave. “Demanding” is often code for facetime expectations; needing to be able to drop everything for a client at the last minute and work late into the evening if necessary to please the client/win a piece of business. The default setting is that they trade down or switch roles because it’s seemingly unthinkable for their male partner/husband to do so. We believe limits on mothers’ careers in finance will persist until the culture changes such that men in finance are as likely as their female colleagues to:

  • Feel comfortable asking for flexible/part time work options
  • Make requests for flexible working/part-time roles
  • Actually work flexibly/part time
  • Be vocal about constraints such as needing to be at home to relieve the nanny
  • Be the person primarily responsible for thinking about/actioning tasks that relate to the home and children.

Some suggested solutions:

  • A campaign from the Treasury to run alongside or be part of the Women in Finance Charter to encourage men to explore part-time and flexible working possibilities.
  • Individual FS institutions raising awareness of the opportunities and benefits of men working part time and/or flexibility.
  • Individual institutions showcasing senior males who work PT and/or flexibly.
  • Individual institutions gathering data on expectant fathers and encouraging them to take shared parental leave (and paying it at full pay). On this point, also see this helpful article on how employers can increase the number of men taking Shared Parental Leave.

My contribution to this inquiry on behalf of The Talent Keeper Specialists was made in collaboration with Genderbuzz, under whose name this submission appears.

Click here for a full list of submissions.

If employers REALLY want more men to take Shared Parental Leave here’s how

What if employers invited expectant fathers to tell them they are expecting a baby? How might this affect the take-up of Shared Parental Leave?

“They’re just hasn’t been the take-up we thought there would be,” is what I hear most often when I ask clients and HR practitioners about shared parental leave. This week at a WISE Campaign knowledge share event on flexible working Eleanor Silverio, UK Benefits Policy Lead at Shell, was candid about their low take-up of SPL at Shell. She explained that in their experience fathers are not actively seeking to be primary carers home alone with baby, and those who do take SPL leave are doing so for other reasons. These reasons may include practical necessity such as a mother with an injury or a desire to take a sabbatical. An HR Director I spoke to a couple of years ago took additional paternity leave (APL), as it was then, to address troubles with his ageing parents and APL was a good vehicle for taking time out. It was not out of a desire to care for his son instead of being at work.

The barriers to men taking SPL have been well-documented (the two biggest ones being lack of financial viability, as men are on average the higher earners, and it going against cultural norms). In a piece I wrote three years ago on the business benefits of active fathers I argued that SPL would flop unless parental leave was sliced into three with a proportion dedicated to the father on a use-it-or-lose-it basis that is well paid. This would serve to speed up cultural change.

But who wants cultural change? Do employers? A shift towards co-parenting and it being equally likely a father takes a significant period of leave to care for his baby as a mother is good for women’s careers and children’s development. HOWEVER, it doesn’t make sense for individual employers to expend much energy convincing their daddy employees to take SPL unless:

1.      The mother of their child is an employee at the same organisation and

2.      She occupies a middle to senior role and

3.      The organisation is keen to keep female brains in the business (because they’re aware of the commercial benefits of a gender-balanced senior team).

If employers really do want fathers to take-up SPL they need to start asking these employees to let them know that they are expecting. This is the start of cultural change and can be achieved through some simple internal comms, including stories of high profile men in the organisation or wider industry who have taken time out. This raises awareness of what SPL is, that it’s OK to take it and how it could be of benefit to the individual. Women returning from maternity leave are fresh, motivated and come with  new perspectives and solutions to their organisation’s challenges – and with support they quickly return or exceed their previous peak performance. They’re assets and it’s about time we treated them as such and encouraged fathers to get in on the act too.

The Talent Keeper Specialists are in the business of keeping, engaging and boosting the performance of returning employees be they on maternity, adoption, shared parental, sick leave or sabbatical. We want to do more work with fathers and hope the profile of participants at our Comeback Community workshops changes to include more men over the next five years.

This post was first published on LinkedIn 2/3/17. Today, 18/2/18, the UK Government has announced a ‘Share the Joy’ campaign to encourage more men to take Shared Parental Leave.

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