Shared Parental Leave: Creating a Gender-Balanced Future
The new Shared Parental Leave legislation goes beyond breaking the stereotype that dads don’t change nappies: it’s a vital step towards true equality in the home and the workplace.
On April 5th, 2015, new legislation went into effect to provide parents – mothers, fathers, partners, or adopters – the ability to share parental leave with their partner. Under the new rules, and after a compulsory two weeks’ recovery, new parents have 50 weeks of leave to split between them. The new legislation allows fathers and partners the ability to be more involved in the raising of the new child, while helping to create a sense of equality in the role of parenting.
“If I didn’t have the option to have the time off, the joys and responsibilities of having a newborn would have fallen to my wife, and I would have had limited involvement in this special time.” ~Jason Lind, Finance Manager at Shell.
Jason Lind was one of the first parents at Shell to qualify for the revised SPL. Jason’s homeland is New Zealand and his wife’s family is in Derbyshire, so they understood they wouldn’t have easy access to family support for the upcoming birth of their second child. Due to a previous back injury, lifting their newborn would have been difficult for his wife, Caroline, and caring for their four-year old – whose first day of school fell in the same week of the new baby’s arrival – added another level of complexity to the decision.
“Parenting is a 24/7 job, and raising children is certainly not easier than working. Without the option of shared parental leave, my wife would have been up for 7am to get our daughter ready for school, despite being up all night with the baby, and I’d be enjoying a coffee and adult conversation at work.”
How much family time can you afford?
For most families, budget is the primary reason to return to work early.
Some forward-thinking organizations, including Shell, offer an enhanced SPL to top the parent’s wages up to full salary while they’re away on leave. For Jason, this gave his family the flexibility to take time off to help each other, without overwhelming financial stress. Prior to the SPL legislation, Shell’s policy was to top up the expectant mum’s wages, but this wasn’t an option for the father. With the new shared leave rules in place, Shell chose to apply the benefit to fathers, too.
“Shell’s decision to top up allows us to operate more as a family unit, especially in circumstances where family isn’t right down the road.”
Shell has achieved its position on the FTSE 100 by consistently attracting and keeping exceptional people. This is accomplished by actively promoting a healthy work/life balance through family-friendly programs, such as an enhanced pay during Shared Parental Leave, flexible working arrangements, including the ability to work from home in some cases.
“We understand and appreciate the important role parents share in raising a family, and we want to ensure our people are equally able to enjoy a healthy work/life balance. Enhancing pay during Shared Parental Leave empowers parents to make a decision that works best for their family.” ~Jonathan Kohn.
To spend quality time with his family while ensuring his office was running effectively, Jason chose a leave option that saw him back in the office for the third week of each month. In Jason’s case, this provided continuity for his line manager and team, while affording him the flexibility to continue to help at home. This form of discontinuous leave allowed him to stretch the leave over a three-month period, taking a total of ten weeks of paternity leave.
“Jason is a great hands-on father and house-husband,” shared Caroline. “We worked as a team, equally sharing everything except for breastfeeding, and this made the first precious weeks a very positive experience. It also gave him the chance to form a special bond with the new baby."
While women have suffered from the stigma of choosing between family and career for decades, SPL brings a new challenge to fathers who want to take a larger role in the raising of the children: the concern they’ll be labelled as less of a man, or not focused on their career. As individuals and employers recognize that SPL is a legal right, they will start to appreciate the importance of allowing the parents to focus their priorities on their family.
Today’s fathers, the ones most likely to benefit from SPL, understand this is an opportunity to break the cycle and show their children – boys and girls – that people are equal. Working parents both feel the rift between work and home, and establishing an effective balance is just as important to each of them. The new SPL rules, especially with companies that offer enhanced benefits, are vital baby steps towards creating a gender-balanced environment at work and home.
“SPL helps make the relationship equal. By giving the dad the option to stay home while mum returns to work, it shows we value the woman’s career, too.”
While the process itself is still in its infancy, and there will likely be a few growing pains, the adoption of SPL shows that the future is bright in terms of opportunities for equality.
Life after Leave
Life for the Linds is back to the new normal. The baby is starting to sleep through the night, sometimes, and the first child has settled into her routine at school. Jason is back to work at Shell, with the flexibility to work from home if needed, and Caroline will be returning to her career soon.
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