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.

Employers benefit by ‘talking flex’ when recruiting

Employers benefit from talking flex

In this opinion post Jessica Chivers shares her views on the competitive advantage gained by employers who state upfront on job adverts and at interview that there’s scope to talk flexible working.

“Should I mention that I’m really looking for four days a week rather than FT?”

“Will I put them off if I ask about flexible working at interview?”

“At what point in the hiring process is it best to ask about flexible options?”

These questions, and variations of, are commonplace in executive coaching sessions where women are exploring how to move on and/or up in their career.

It strikes me that many employers are missing a very real competitive advantage by not placing the words “up for talking flexibility’ on job adverts seeking mid to senior professionals for full time roles. This is particularly relevant if the organisation has made a public commitment to increasing the number of women at the top of their business, as say McKinsey has done. The employer is under no obligation to offer flex but by including these words, they’ve probably doubled the pool of people who might apply. A winning strategy, surely?

As an aside, McKinsey have just revealed their latest gender equality research (in conjunction with LeanIn.org) and show that women’s journey to the top is still appallingly slow. Change needs to come quickly.

In reality the onus is all too often on the candidates’ shoulders to ask about flexibility, and with so many stories about women noticing a negative change in the recruiter when they ask, it’s no wonder women hold back from applying for FT roles.

Where jobs adverts make no mention of flexibility, it would be useful if the recruiting manager ‘put it out there’ at the start of the interview (and not just when they’re interviewing females of a certain age – men want more flex too). “We’re advertising for a full time member of the team to be based predominantly in Manchester but depending on who we meet, there’s scope for the role to be done flexibly. We can talk about that further down the line.” There, easy.

I’m noticing a growing problematic pattern of women ‘choosing’ to stay in jobs they’ve outgrown because it gives them the flex they want (or more likely need) to be able to have a decent, wholesome family life where kids get help with their homework and at least one meal gets eaten together as a family.* There’s a belief that the only way to maintain this flex is to put it on hold, work full time for a new employer and prove oneself again (a hazy concept, but that’s an issue for another post) and then negotiate flex. The difficulty with this is it’s usually not that easy to switch to being an FT worker if you have children too young to have a key to the front door. For starters, the chances are you won’t be able to up your childcare to cover it.

A final point to ponder: could it be that the journey towards gender balance at the top of our organizations is slow because women are staying put when it’s time to move on? That they’re sacrificing stretch for flex and just not going after the next job? Giving women and men permission to discuss flexible working could be the key to change.

I’m optimistic that smart employers will soon start to print words to the effect of “up for talking flex” on their job ads and that their businesses will be all the better for it. I suspect we need some ballsy HR Directors to tap their CEOs on the shoulder to make it happen. Are you out there?

What do you think? Are you explicit about flexibility in your recruitment activities? Have you asked about flexibility at interview and had a good response?


* Yes, there are people without children who crave flex too. There are people with horses that need turning out each morning, there are people with elderly caring responsibilities and there are people who just want to have a darn good time at the weekend living a different life by the sea. They all want or need flex too and if they can get the job done without having their backsides on their swivel chair from 8.30-5.30pm every day then why not?)


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