LONDON June 2018: Parents At Work gathered thought-leaders and influencers from business, research and Government to advance parental leave equality globally


“The fatherhood penalty is very real and it’s coming to a company near you.”

That was the rallying call to UK businesses from the CEO of Working Families, Sarah Jackson OBE, at last week’s international think-tank event on shared parental leave in London.

Parents At Work launched the Global Parental Leave Equality Campaign to champion shared parental leave around the world, in a unique collaboration with the Embassy of Sweden, University College London, Working Families UK, Working Mums UK, Dad.Info and sponsored by Norton Rose Fulbright.

Eighty business and Government thought-leaders and influencers came together to discuss shared parental leave, which allows eligible couples in the UK to share up to 50 weeks of leave and 37 weeks of pay after having a baby or adopting a child; either separately or together.

Despite around 285,000 families in the UK being eligible, take up could be as low as two percent.

The audience acknowledged that it is a complex description of eligibility and a lack of awareness of shared parental leave’s existence was central to the problem of low take up. In addition many couples feel financially unable to allow dad to take time off with many concerned about the detrimental impact taking an extended leave break will have on his career.

Employees in their 20s and 30s – often referred to as millennials – are dominating today’s work space. Research shared at the event showed that millennials want flexibility from their employer, to allow them to be there for their family. And for the first time in history it’s men more than women seeking that change.

So it’s clear that many companies need to take a different approach to employees’ leave after welcoming a child to their family, and respond with modern policies and approaches that support both working mothers and fathers equally.

This event was made unique by the UK debut of the internationally acclaimed ‘Swedish Dads’ photographic exhibition by Johan Bävman. The photos share the experiences of 23 Swedish Dads and 10 Australian Dads who stayed home with their families for at least six months, as Bävman did. These images shine a light on the caring needs of fathers and have travelled the world, a voice and beacon for caring equality.

Bävman shared his experience: “In Sweden, parents are offered 480 days of paid parental leave, with each parent exclusively having 90, so it’s common place to see groups of dads out during the day with their young children. I spent time with the dads I photographed, to capture the many emotions they have when they take time off work to care for their children. I saw them express tiredness, frustration, and of course an incredible amount of love. It’s something women have done for decades and centuries and never been recognised for, and now dads are doing it too.”

Emma Walsh, CEO of Parents At Work, said: “The event showed that by putting their people first, and supporting them to be engaged parents as well as engaged employees, businesses can really thrive. Giving men an equal opportunity to share parental leave and work in a more flexible, family-friendly way, without detriment to their career or professional reputation, can have such a positive impact on them, as well as on their children, society, and the broader economy. It’s time for change.”

If companies don’t address the fatherhood penalty as an issue that is impacting much of the workforce they will fall behind in attracting the best talent.

To hear what organisations that are leading the way on parental leave equality are doing watch the videos from the panel discussion here . . . 

For photo highlights of the event tap here.