Business

Millennial men demand better parental leave

Yash Puri Image copyright Yash Puri

Yash Puri returned from three months parental leave last week and immediately decided to spread the word about the benefit of spending time with his young children.

"I see dads in the office who want to know about my story. They say: 'I wish I could do that', and I say: 'You can do it, you've got to bite the bullet'," the 37-year-old IT expert says.

Mr Puri - a father of two - says many organisations don't know how to support new dads.

"They are struggling how to understand to support the men. I don't think men know themselves they can do this," says Mr Puri, who is a partner at IT consultancy FIS.

Taking parental leave is not always straightforward, not least because of the cost involved.

The TUC has said problems can occur at the point that workers fall back on statutory pay when they take time out.

Analysis by the University of Birmingham found only 9,200 new parents (just over 1% of those entitled) took shared parental leave in 2017-18. That increased to 10,700 in the financial year 2018-19.

Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption Firms say many men want to take a more hands-on role

But companies are starting to offer enhanced parental leave - not just maternity leave - to respond to the demands of their staff.

The latest is Goldman Sachs, which on Monday announced that men and women would get the same fully-paid leave, of at least 20 weeks, whether they had become new parents through birth, surrogacy or adoption.

That follows two FTSE 100 companies - Standard Life Aberdeen and Vodafone - which last week announced steps to try to equalise the experience of men and women in the workplace when babies are born.

Sarah Churchman, chief diversity and inclusion officer at PwC, says a generational change is underway.

"I think many more parents of both genders now want to be more hands-on parents, particularly in the early years. We're seeing that ourselves among our young millennial men."

Both men and women taking time out of the workplace should - in theory at least - lead to more equality in terms of pay and opportunity, and comes as politicians are focusing on inequality in work. In the UK, for instance, companies are being forced to publish their gender pay gap.

In the notoriously testosterone-driven world of finance, Goldman's chief executive David Solomon said the changes it was making were "designed to enable everyone in our workforce to better manage the commitment to their careers while starting, growing and supporting a family".

The bank's 6,000 staff in the UK will be offered 26 weeks full parental pay, while in the rest of the word it will be 20 weeks. The US bank is even offering $10,000 for egg retrieval and $20,000 for egg donation.

While other firms are not going that far, Standard Life Aberdeen's plan is seen as one of the most generous. It is offering nine months full pay for parents - both mothers and fathers - regardless of whether the mother gives birth to the baby, the baby is born via surrogacy, or if the child is adopted.

It is aimed at the UK - where the Edinburgh-based financial firm employs 4,564 people. All new parents are eligible, regardless of gender, family set-up or how long they have been at the company, and it can be taken in three blocks over two years.

Rose Thomson, chief HR officer at Standard Life Aberdeen, has admitted that this contrasts sharply with her own experience, as her husband took just a week off when they had their children, now 20 and 16.

"I think he would look at this policy and say: 'Wow, I would have loved to have been able to spend a lot more time with my children when they were little'."

Image copyright TIMCOOMBS
Image caption Tim Coombs plans to take up Standard Life Aberdeen's new parental policy

Standard Life Aberdeen estimates about 180-200 people will be eligible and among those planning to take up the new arrangement is Tim Coombs, a London-based business development director.

His wife will be having their first child in April and he says the stigma that can be associated with taking time out from the workplace has gone.

"I know that's been a concern for people in the past," he says.

"There's a flexibility. You can take three instalments. That's the big thing for me. It's not all or nothing."

Attracting staff

At telecoms group Vodafone all 92,000 employees around the world will be offered 16 weeks full paid parental leave, starting from next April.

They will be able take it at any time over the first 18 months, and it will be available for employees whose partners are having babies, adopting or having a child through surrogacy.

Other companies with such policies include mobile phone operator O2, which gives 14 weeks for all permanent employees, and drinks company Diageo, which gives its 4,500 employees an equal 52 weeks parental leave, with the first 26 weeks fully paid.

John Palmer, senior guidance adviser at Acas, says such policies can help businesses attract staff.

"Taking this approach means that these businesses are likely to stand out attractive employers in what has been an increasingly competitive labour market."

Image copyright Joeli Brearley
Image caption Joeli Brearley set up the Pregnant Then Screwed campaign group

However, such generous parental leave is rare and there are many instances where women feel let down.

Joeli Brearley lost her job a day after telling her company she was pregnant. Her experience prompted her to set up the "Pregnant Then Screwed" campaign group, which helps woman in similar situations.

"It's very common that people are treated badly," she says,

She cites data from the Equality and Human Rights Commission, from a government-commissioned study, that shows as many as 54,000 mothers a year felt they had to leave their jobs while pregnant.

There is more to be done - and not just for people needing to care for new families.

PwC's Ms Churchman says: "Having a young family is one thing. What about looking after an older family? We have to think about that as well as the workforce evolves."

What are your rights?

Pregnant employees have the right to 52 weeks maternity leave.

The first 26 weeks is known as ordinary maternity leave, and the second 26 weeks as additional maternity leave.

Statutory maternity pay (SMP) is payable for 39 weeks. For the first six weeks it is paid at 90% of average weekly earnings. The following 33 weeks is paid at the SMP rate or 90% of average weekly earnings, whichever is the lower. From 6 April, SMP was set at £148.68 per week.

But some employers offer contractual maternity pay that is more than the statutory rate.

Shared parental leave allows parents - after birth or adoption - to share up to 50 weeks of leave and up to 37 weeks of pay .

Each parent can take up to three blocks of leave, more if their employer allows, interspersed with periods of work.

Paternity leave is a period of either one or two consecutive weeks that fathers or partners can take off from work to care for their baby or child.

The partner can receive statutory paternity pay of £148.68 per week, provided they have worked for the company for 26 weeks.

Source: Acas

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