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Despite it being nearly 50 years since the introduction of the Equal Pay Act, 45% of companies are reporting increases in their gender pay gaps this year, while in 2018, figures disclosed by the UK’s biggest companies found that eight in ten firms pay men more than their female colleagues.
Research published in Denmark looking at pay gaps across the UK, US, Denmark and Sweden in 2018 showed that parenting influences women’s earnings, finding that a 30% gender pay gap opens up immediately after the birth of a child, which stays at roughly 20% for the next ten years. Meanwhile, recent ONS figures found that, despite starting off relatively equally, by the time men and women are in their 30s, 90% of men are working full time, while only 60% of women are, pointing to the fact that women continue to take on the lion’s share of child-caring responsibilities throughout their working lives.
With the introduction of mandatory gender pay gap reporting in 2017 an increased sense of responsibility for reducing the gender pay gap was shifted onto employers. One way to tackle this is for businesses to empower fathers to take a more active role in parenting. This can be done by encouraging uptake of Shared Parental Leave (SPL). Brought into play in April 2015, SPL permits a couple to split up to 50 weeks of leave and up to 37 weeks of pay between them in the first year after having a child and aims to encourage parents to share child-caring responsibilities more equally.
Uptake remains low however— recent research commissioned by PowWowNow found that since 2015, just one in ten fathers have made use of SPL. Despite this, 85% of fathers surveyed said they wished they had taken more time off to look after their child in the first year, with over eight in ten wanting a more active role in their child’s life on a daily basis. Work pressure was given as the largest factor fathers felt prevented them from spending as much time with their child as they wanted, while a third reported not being able to afford SPL and one in five said they were unaware of their right to request it at the time. An additional 19% reported not wanting to take leave away from their partner.
If employers are to motivate more fathers to take SPL, they must be more transparent about the rights men have when taking leave for child-care reasons. This can be done by enacting internal campaigns to educate employees about the options available to them, ensuring there is adequate information about SPL given to workers when they join companies, and actively broaching the subject with soon-to-be dads. With cultural stigmas around the role that men play in parenting still prevalent, these tactics could help men become more aware of the existence of Shared Parental Leave and more likely to feel comfortable discussing their options rather than having to actively research the topic themselves.
Businesses also need to be more proactive by putting in place policies that support men taking time off to care for their child. These can include ensuring that men and women are offered equal pay for leave they choose to take in the first year of having a child. This could help to eliminate some of the financial discrepancies which often result in men remaining at work. Employers offering equal pay or even above statutory pay for SPL would make the option more attractive for families and allow men to be more involved with caring for their new-born.
Another way in which employers can better empower fathers to take more of an active role in child-caring is through providing better support for parents returning to work. Working with returning mothers or fathers to set achievable goals and avoid piling unnecessary pressure on workers can mean that new parents feel supported at work and less afraid to take time out when needed to look after children.
Flexible working is also an important strategy for building a workplace that allows parents to balance family with work life. By putting in place flexible working policies and working with employees on a case-to-case basis to create a bespoke working plan that best meets their individual needs, businesses can allow new parents to fit child-caring commitments around work ones more easily.
With nine out of 10 fathers having reported that taking time off work to look after their child in the first year of birth had a positive effect on their family life, it is clear that fathers who are able to take on more childcare responsibility are likely to feel happier about their role in the home. By enacting strategies that motivate more men to take on bigger parenting roles, employers can begin to ease gender disparity in the workplace and support the development of a more motivated workforce.
April 8, 2019 at 11:57AM
Forbes – Entrepreneurs