Parental Leave Parity: Supporting new dads in the workplace 

15 August, 2023, 14:23 pm GMT

Chloe Mumford

By Chloe Mumford

Working dad

When talking about parental leave, mothers often take centre stage. However, dads or soon-to-be dads don’t currently receive enough support from their employers to take on more childcare responsibilities, and are restricted by current paternal leave policies, which many find gives them insufficient time to adjust to this major life change.

We often talk about the role of mums and dads in the household, childcare responsibilities, and the disparity we see. However, research by the Office for National Statistics demonstrates that the COVID-19 pandemic led to an increase in childcare undertaken by men, rising from 39% of the time that women spent on childcare to 64%. Despite this, fathers returned to the office post-pandemic to only be restricted by their employment contracts with how much paternal leave they are permitted to take. And, as a result, pressure is being placed on their partners to pick up childcare responsibilities, which only exacerbates the gender gap in the workplace.

One of the ways we can overcome this disparity is by providing dads support in the workplace, so they can take on a greater role in childcare responsibilities. By supporting fathers, we also support mothers.

So, in this article, we aim to explore what type of support fathers should receive and the organisational benefits their employers can expect to see.

What parental leave do dads currently get?

In the UK, dads are only entitled to 1 or 2 weeks of paid paternity leave. Statutory Paternity Pay for eligible employees is either £172.48 a week or 90% of their average weekly earnings (whichever is lower). Tax and National Insurance also need to be deducted from this amount.

Meanwhile, mums can receive up to 52 weeks of maternity leave with the first 26 weeks being classed as ‘Ordinary Maternity Leave’, and the latter ‘Additional Maternity Leave’. Financially, mums can receive Statutory Maternity Pay for up to 39 weeks of their leave, with 6 weeks at 90% of their average weekly earnings before tax, and the remaining 33 weeks at £172.48 or 90% of their average weekly earnings (whichever is lower).

There is a significant parental leave disparity, with men being limited to a couple of weeks of paid parental leave. There are obvious reasons for this, with women having to recover from childbirth. However, what if the mother wanted to return to work before the 52 weeks concluded, and the father wanted to undertake childcare instead? What if the mother needs her partner to be at home as she recovers from a C-section, which takes much longer than 2 weeks?

The question is, why are organisations afraid of giving fathers more time at home following the birth of their children?

Why does it need to change?

A study by Daddilife found that 3 in 4 dads reported feeling stressed while trying to juggle work and family life. Stress can contribute to various mental health conditions. Statistics show that 1 in 10 new dads get diagnosed with depression within 1 year of the birth of their child. Providing support for new dads at work can help support their mental health and prevent new issues from arising.

In the past, there was (and still is) a societal expectation for men to be the breadwinner and focus solely on providing for their families. Many may also believe that the harder they work, the more they can provide. However, this only makes taking on childcare responsibilities more difficult.

Unfortunately, as this was a traditional ‘ideal’, a lot of fathers today don’t have a male role model who has been strongly involved in parenting. Organisations aren’t built to accommodate this either. One interviewee from a study by People Management said, “For the majority, it’s my generation who are leading this… we will be the role models in the future”.

The benefits of supporting new dads in the workplace extend beyond individual fathers. Organisations also stand to gain from this support. Dads who spend time with their children report a boost in happiness and fulfilment, which has the potential to extend to the workplace. This is supported in a study by McKinsey and Co., which found that after taking leave, they felt more motivated and considered staying in their company longer. The study also showed that dads taking parental leave led them to change the way they work, increasing productivity and improving time management. It’s clear that a longer paternity leave benefits not only dads and their children, but organisations too.

What support can organisations provide?

Longer paternity leave

According to a study by the charity, Pregnant Then Screwed, 97% of dads say that 2 weeks of paternity leave is not enough, and 99% of respondents think that the UK Government should improve its paternity leave offering. Furthermore, 46% said they have, or would consider switching jobs to acquire better paternity leave and pay. Bringing paternity leave in line with maternity leave can create a culture where dads feel accepted when asking for an extended period of leave longer than the typical 1-2 weeks.

Not all dads will want to take as many weeks as mums, but providing the option to be there for the baby’s first couple of months will be beneficial for everyone.

One company that does this well is Aviva. They offer up to one year of equal parental leave for both parents, of which 26 weeks is at full basic pay within the first 12 months of a child’s arrival. Additionally, they have an equal amount of parental leave for birth, adoption, and surrogacy and this is available to full-time and part-time employees across all levels. This shows that companies are capable of providing more paternity leave, so what’s stopping them?

Flexible working

In a study by Working Dads, four in five dads said they were now more likely to request flexible or remote working. Flexible working is something that a lot of dads want, and it benefits not just them, but their families. 

However, a study by TUC, found that 75% of dads who requested furlough for childcare reasons had it turned down. Instead, this pressures their partner to request time off and take on more of the childcare responsibility.

Final thoughts

We know that support for working dads requires a culture shift, but it’s necessary. Gender-inclusive policies are a step forward in the right direction for gender equality. We need to get rid of this ‘breadwinner’ stereotype, and instead give both men and women an equal chance in contributing to parenting.

Providing men with more flexible working means that they can take on more of the childcare responsibilities, something 56 per cent of men claim they want to do, according to a study conducted by The Equal Lives. This is also about supporting fatherhood and balanced family responsibilities. Dads should also be able to experience the joys of seeing their baby’s firsts. Neither parent should have to choose between work or childcare.

When we talk about gender in the workplace, we often talk about women’s needs. However, we also need to support dads and their needs, whether they’re single dads or have a partner. Current workplace parental leave policies are proving inadequate for new dads, leading to a disproportionate burden on mothers for childcare responsibilities, who are also usually sacrificing their careers in the process. However, by implementing more inclusive and flexible parental leave policies that support new dads, organisations not only promote gender equality but also foster a more balanced, productive and happy workforce. Recognising the importance of shared parenting benefits not just fathers, but the overall well-being of the entire workforce, creating a more equitable and supportive environment for all employees.