Embracing Shared Parental Leave: A Step towards Parent-Friendly Work Cultures
We often talk about the positive impact of shared parental leave and the need for businesses to really focus on creating parent friendly cultures. It’s why we are conducting a survey to ask for your experiences. If you haven’y already fill out the survey you can find it here (it will take 10 mins).
The reason we see this as important is because this is such a key time is that becoming a parent is a pivotal point not only in parents’ lives but it also has a huge impact on equality too.
So what does this have to do with gender stereotypes?
There is currently a huge disparity between maternity leave and paternity leave. Statutory Maternity Leave is quite well understood. Made up of 52 weeks (ordinary maternity leave = first 26 weeks, additional maternity leave = second 26 weeks). You are not required to take the full 52 weeks, but you must take at least 2 weeks after the child is born (4 weeks if you work in a factory). Statutory paternity leave offers new fathers a maximum of just two weeks off work to spend with their children. This is where shared parental leave lets fathers share some of their partners leave, giving all parents the opportunity to be, well, parents!
Longer term impact
It’s a key time in careers, all parents worry that taking leave will impact their career, their earning potential and there is no doubt that this is the time that the gender pay gap really starts to increase. It is also a time that heavily influences the gender stereotypes that children are exposed to.
If we can impact how parental leave is viewed, delivered, and experienced by parents, regardless of gender, then we can not only impact the work place and the gender pay gap, but also create a more equal world for our future generations.
How does shared parental leave work?
Parental leave refers to a period of time off from work granted to employees who are becoming parents, allowing them to take care of their newborn or newly adopted child. It is a crucial policy that recognises the importance of supporting parents during this significant life event.
Shared parental leave allows qualifying parents to share up to 50 weeks of leave and 37 weeks of pay in the first year after the birth or adoption of their child. It can be taken in blocks or all at once and it allows both parents to bond with their new child and gain valuable first-hand experience of parenting in those all-important early stages .
Despite its many benefits, only 2% of eligible parents take shared parental leave , meaning that countless mothers are taking the majority of leave to care for their new children, and countless fathers/partners are missing out on precious time with their young families. Here at not only pink and blue, we think that shared parental leave is such an important and beneficial policy that more parents should be able to take advantage of.
[To find out if you and your partner qualify for parental leave – including for adoption – you can find all the details here.]
The benefits of shared parental leave.
1. It boost your child’s physical and mental wellbeing
There are so many benefits to shared parental leave, and one that cannot go ignored is its hugely positive impact on your children’s wellbeing. With statutory maternity and paternity leave, caregiving often falls to mothers who are given more time off work to look after their children, however, if you are in a two parent household having both parents at home can be transformative to a child’s life, especially during early development. With shared parental leave, fathers/partners are given the opportunity to be there for their children, something that will positively shape their relationship for the rest of their lives. Studies have shown that having a more involved Dad massively contributes to children’s overall wellbeing including their social, emotional, and cognitive development . And these benefits continue to have an effect well into adulthood; children who have a close relationship with their Fathers grow up to be twice as likely to go to university or find a stable job, 75% less likely to have a teenage pregnancy, 80% less likely to spend time in jail and 50% less likely to suffer from depression . But to form this close relationship in childhood, fathers benefit from time away from work to bond with their children during those all-important early stages.
2. It allows parents to share the mental load of parenting
These health benefits are not exclusive to Fathers; when Dads stay at home and are more involved in infant care, Mums suffer less from depression  and benefit from increased wellbeing three months after the birth . Sharing parental leave also allows couples to navigate early parenthood together and create a supportive dynamic where they are both involved in the care of their children. This reduces the mental load of caregiving which all too often falls to the Mother. As Social Sciences expert Erin Rehel explains, “extended [parental] leave challenges the perceived naturalness of women’s superior parenting capabilities by providing men with time to develop a similar sense of parenting through hands-on experience.” When parenting is shared, men develop greater confidence and skill in their parenting, leading to greater Father involvement later on and allowing couples to “move beyond a ‘manager-helper’ style of parenting and towards a ‘co-parenting’ relationship” .
3. It contributes to social change
The traditional model of leave-taking often leads to a gendered division of labour where the majority of childcare and household chores fall to the Mother. When leave is shared and a co-parenting dynamic is established, it contributes to gender equality in heterosexual relationships, challenges traditional gender roles and stereotypes, and promotes work-life balance for parents of all genders. By allowing both parents to have time off work, shared parental leave encourages a more equitable division of childcare and supports the notion that parenting is a shared responsibility. It also allows mothers to return to work sooner. Currently, 85% of women leave the full-time workforce three years after having children, in comparison to the 2% that actually want to . With shared parental leave, more Mothers have the choice to return to work while Fathers stay at home creating a more equal and diverse workforce and reducing the gender pay gap which almost doubles between the 30s and 40s (when many people start their families) . One study found that Mothers’ income rose by 7% for every month that Fathers spent on leave, and that Mothers had more motivation to work and to stay in the same job for longer when Fathers took leave 
4. It’s beneficial to fathers’ mental wellbeing
Father-child bonding is not just important for children, but for Fathers as well. Having a healthy, intimate relationship with your baby can be hugely beneficial to your own mental wellbeing and can even impact your physical health – studies have shown that fathers who take longer leave after the birth of their babies have a lowered risk of developing alcohol-related problems and an overall reduced risk of early death. 
5. With shared parental leave, together we can grow a generation of equals
At not only pink and blue we are passionate about breaking down gender stereotypes in childhood to create a more equal society for future generations. Shared parental leave can be a tool for change as it gives parents of all genders the opportunity to model both professional working and domestic caring behaviours. The traditional leave-taking model reinforces gender stereotypes wherein Mothers are expected to adopt a homemaking role while Fathers return to work. Exposure to these binaries shapes your child’s perception of gender from a young age and follows them into adulthood, which can impact their aspirations and their expectations of themselves and of others based on gender alone. By taking shared parental leave and transgressing traditional gender roles, you will expose your children to non-stereotypical behaviour, altering their perception of what it means to be a mother or father. This exposure can have a huge impact on their futures; when Fathers stay at home more, their daughters end up doing less housework  and by age 12, sons and daughters exhibit more egalitarian attitudes towards gender roles and engage in more non-stereotypical behaviour day to day 
At not only pink and blue, we believe that all parents, regardless of gender, should be given the freedom to make their own decisions concerning their careers and their roles as parents. We want more parents to be able to take shared parental leave so that Dads get to bond properly with their little ones, Mums get to return to the workforce, and children get to see both of their parents as carers and as professionals. With shared parental leave, real change can be effected in society; we can diversify workforces, begin to close the gender pay gap, and reduce gender bias amongst our children, encouraging them to aim high, play how they like, and aspire to be whatever they want to be, regardless of their gender.
Did you know that we offer talks about shattering gender stereotypes for companies, schools, and businesses? Well, now you do! Check out our talks page to find out more, or get in touch with us via our contact page.
And sign up for our newsletter to hear about our up and coming online course to help parents/carers challenge gender stereotypes from birth.
Photo 3 by Clare Willetts