Shared parental leave to help close gender pay gap?

Shared parental leave to help close gender pay gap?

Olivia Hill, chief HR officer at the Association of Accounting Technicians (AAT) considers Equal Pay Day and the effectiveness of shared parental leave

Friday 2 November marks Equal Pay Day; the day when women are said to effectively stop earning (when compared to men) for the rest of the year. The gender pay gap is now said to be 8.6% in favour of males for full time workers. Although the gap has been falling over the past few years, many groups such as the Fawcett Society and the TUC still believe that it is closing too slowly.

It’s also still an issue in the accounting sector. Many measures have been suggested to try and bridge the gap more quickly; one of which has been to bring in shared parental leave (SPL).

SPL was introduced in the UK in April 2015, and allows parents to share up to 50 weeks of leave and up to 37 weeks of pay between them in their first year after having a child. It was designed to allow parents to decide for themselves how they wanted to balance work and family.

When it was introduced, then deputy prime minister, Nick Clegg, said it would “stop women feeling they have to choose between a career or a baby.”

However, research shows that take-up of SPL has been very low. Indeed, recent figures have shown that fathers in the UK are not only not taking shared parental leave, but they are also being deterred from taking the two weeks of statutory parental leave that they are eligible for, with only 22% of fathers using their full allowance, according to Eurobarometer research.

Based on a study done this year, one suggested reason for fathers’ being reluctant to take leave is that traditional workplace culture looks unfavourably on men taking time out of their career to take care of children.

Many men still worry that they will be stigmatised for taking leave and seen as not being serious about their career. Another reason that has identified is that many fear that they simply cannot afford to take it.

Despite the rise in both parents working full-time, the man can often still be viewed as the main ‘breadwinner’, meaning that it does not make economic sense for him to take leave when the family might lose his earnings.

Furthermore, many have found that their organisation’s shared parental leave policy is confusing and difficult to understand. There are cases when they do not even know the policy exists.

Government research found that many parents still do not understand their eligibility for shared parental leave; many employers do not understand how shared parental leave works, and are unable to explain and communicate it to their employees.

Ten major employers, including EY, Deloitte, and PwC recently agreed to publish their leave and pay policies online, to help make this information more transparent.

Member of Parliament, Jo Swinson, backed the plan and believes that it will mean candidates will not have to ask about policies at interviews, which could help those people who may have been worried about this prior to a potential period of leave.

Is sharing leave failing the system?

Under the current system, SPL means that mothers are required to give up part of their own leave entitlement, which many may be reluctant to do.

One possible way to fix this was suggested at a roundtable AAT held to try to understand how to close the gender pay gap. Instead of women having to reduce their maternity leave entitlement, paternity leave should be increased.

This would mean women will not have to give up their own leave, it will allow both parents to spend more time with their child together, and could also help change the culture so that men are less likely to fear being stigmatised for taking more time with their child.

Countries such as Sweden have generous paternity leave allowances that enable fathers to take more time off; it has become culturally acceptable for fathers to take more time off.

Parental leave is hugely important to help new fathers settle in and bond with their children. It is also an important way to try and close the gender pay gap. Increasing use of it could help change society for the better.

If we want to be able to push Equal Pay Day to later in the year, and then finally get rid of it for good, getting more parents to share leave will be one of the ways to make that happen. However, there is still a lot of work to do, and changes will have to be made to the system to help increase its uptake.

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