The Employment and Immigration Team at Trethowans is backing calls from MPs to reconsider changes to the sharing of parental leave, in a bid to close the gender pay gap.
It comes as a cross-party group of MPs have written a letter to women and equalities minister Justine Greening, urging her to reconsider recommendations such as giving dads three months’ paid paternity leave.
They say the gender pay gap will never be tackled as long as women end up with disproportionate responsibility for childcare.
Kathryn Casey-Evans, partner in employment and immigration at the firm, said: “If the Government is serious about gender equality at work, then building in childcare responsibility must be a cornerstone of it. Just before Shared Parental Leave became available we were asked to draft several policies for our clients in preparation for what was thought to be a potential stampede of men and women sharing parental responsibility for their babies. To say that the take-up of Shared Parental Leave has been underwhelming is an understatement. Perhaps not surprising as it is reported that, only 1% of a surveyed group of men said that they had taken this up.
“So what is the problem? Some couples simply can’t afford to share leave based on their different levels of pay. An increase in paternity pay from two weeks to say three months’ pay would significantly help. It could go some way to addressing the real cultural shift that is still to come. The Government should consider helping to pay for it too, to encourage businesses to work with it.”
Kathryn adds that businesses would need to prepare for this. “If fathers begin to take off longer periods to care for their children, as is presently the case with maternity leavers, employers will need to plan around their absence in the same way as they do with their female workers. Employers will need to consider how to cover customer demand and staff shortages for both male and female workers. This will over time help men to feel more comfortable about taking time off for childcare and it will reduce the continued prejudice some women of ‘childbearing age’ face in recruitment.”
The team adds that the Government could carry out a campaign backed by large businesses and senior entrepreneurs to encourage male staff to take shared parental leave and to make flexible working requests. It could help to ease the cultural pressure that many men still feel at work to be full time.