The UK’s Department for Business is making a new push to raise awareness of the Shared Parental Leave program, after finding that as few as 2 percent of eligible parents are taking advantage of it, the BBC reports:
Around half of the general public are still unaware the option exists, nearly three years after it was introduced, the government said. It now plans to spend £1.5m to better inform parents about the policy. Experts say that as well as a lack of understanding of what is on offer, cultural barriers and financial penalties are deterring some parents from sharing parental leave.
The government’s campaign will encourage parents to “share the joy” through online advertising, social media and on billboards. Business minister Andrew Griffiths said the policy meant dads didn’t have to miss out on “their baby’s first step, word or giggle”.
Nearly three years after Shared Parental Leave was enacted, the government is still struggling to get British workers to use it. Approximately 285,000 couples become eligible for the publicly guaranteed benefit each year, but by one estimate last year, fewer than 9,000 parents took advantage of it in the year prior to March 2017.
Cisco updated its parental leave policy this month to make it both more generous and inclusive. The new policy, which went into effect November 1, eliminates the terms “maternity” and “paternity” leave and instead defines parents by the gender-neutral terms “main and supporting caregiver,” Amanda Eisenberg reports at Employee Benefit News. For US employees, “main caregivers” are now allowed 13 weeks of consecutive leave after adding a child to their family, while “supporting caregivers” are allowed four weeks. Both parents are also allowed to take paid time off for appointments, and new grandparents are now also entitled to three days of paid leave:
“We’re finding new and better ways to support our employees so they can be the best at home and at work,” says Shari Slate, vice president of inclusion and collaboration at Cisco. “The goal is that everyone feels respected and supported fairly and consistently.” The expanded caregiver leave benefit has been rolled out to 37,000 U.S. employees, while more than 33,000 additional employees globally will receive the benefit in fiscal year 2019.
Cisco’s new leave policy also includes additional time off for emergencies. The company says it recognizes that unexpected situations may arise and employees need time to give it their undivided attention. The emergency time off request, which can be for incidents like a tree falling through an employee’s roof or a family member falling ill, is approved by a manager at his or her discretion.
Cisco’s adoption of a gender-neutral policy reflects a growing demand for paid leave that applies to both mothers and fathers, as well as a realization that such policies are beneficial to families and help combat stigmas against mothers in the workplace. It also gets ahead of possible legal or regulatory changes, as the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission has been challenging parental leave policies that it sees as discriminatory for distinguishing between mothers and fathers.
IBM has joined the list of tech companies overhauling their parental leave policies to court working mothers in the US. The company’s VP of Employee Benefits, Barbara Brickmeier, announced on Wednesday that the company had updated its parental leave policy, applying retroactively to IBM babies born or adopted after November 2016: New mothers will now have up to 20 weeks of paid leave, rather than 14, and leave for new fathers, partners, and adoptive parents has been doubled from six to 12 weeks.
Parents can take this time off at any time during the first year after the birth or adoption, and IBM will also reimburse up to $20,000 of employees’ adoption of surrogacy expenses. Brickmeier also highlights some other changes the tech giant has made to support parents, especially mothers, in its workforce:
As medical diagnosis has improved, our society has recognized the potential of special needs services for children. Our Special Care for Children Assistance Plan reimburses employees $50,000 towards applicable services for each child with mental, physical or developmental disabilities.
In addition, we continue to adapt our popular family-friendly programs, which include:
- Our 2015 milk delivery program for nursing moms who travel on business has been expanded to international travel;
- Childcare center and after-school center discounts across the U.S.;
- Expanding expectant mother parking to IBM locations across 50 states;
- Investing in child care centers with guaranteed priority status for IBM families through our Global Work/Life Fund;
- A range of maternity and mindfulness services;
IBM already scored high on indices of working-mother-friendly employee benefits and corporate environments, and is both following and driving forward an industrywide benefits war to attract and retain working mothers to help fill their talent gaps. It has also developed, in partnership with iRelaunch, a re-entry program for mid-career women who have taken extended career breaks, such as to care for a child or elderly parent.
Last month, a News.com.au report highlighted a novel way that a CEO in Australia has been trying to encourage better work-life balance and less presenteeism in his workforce. Robbert Rietbroek, CEO of PepsiCo in Australia and New Zealand, asks his executive team to “leave loudly” when departing the office so that they are being extra visible (and audible) role models for junior employees.
“If I occasionally go at 4 pm to pick up my daughters,” Rietbroek told the news site, “I will make sure I tell the people around me, ‘I’m going to pick up my children.’ Because if it’s okay for the boss, then it’s okay for middle management and new hires.” He added that if you are “younger or more junior, you need to be able to see your leaders go home, to be comfortable to leave.”
Since Rietbroek became CEO in 2015, he has been promoting a number of family-friendly workplace policies, including 16-week parental leave, flexible work times, and summer Fridays. The benefits are not just limited to working parents, either, as the flexibility is centered around the concept of “One Simple Thing,” where an employee can pick the most important thing in their personal life and can build a work schedule around that. For many, the one simple thing is being more involved in their children’s lives, but for others, like the head of procurement, it can be a hobby like surfing.
The UK’s Shared Parental Leave law was intended to encourage working parents to more evenly split up the burden of caring for infant children by allowing new mothers (or “lead parents” in same-sex couples) 50 weeks of leave and 37 weeks of statutory pay to divide between themselves and their partners in any proportion they choose. Since being enacted in April 2015, however, the SPL policy has failed to garner much uptake: The latest research shows that even though plenty of parents are taking leave, just a few took advantage of this policy last year, Emily Burt reports at People Management:
[F]igures published by law firm EMW found that, while 661,000 mothers and 221,000 fathers took maternity and paternity leave in the year to March 2017, only 8,700 parents took SPL. “Many new parents are unclear about how the system will work for their families and careers,” warned Jon Taylor, principal at EMW. “Fathers in particular could be concerned about coming across as less committed to their job if they ask for greater flexibility, deterring them from looking into it.” …
Separate figures obtained by People Management in June revealed that fewer than 7,500 men had taken SPL in the past year, with experts suggesting that they had been deterred by the ‘complexity’ of the rules. Meanwhile, CIPD data from December 2016 found that just 5 per cent of new fathers had opted to take SPL.
Previous studies have shown persistently low take-up of this benefit, which has left architects of the policy and advocates of mainstreaming paternity leave scratching their heads as to why it hasn’t caught on. The hundreds of thousands of fathers taking parental leave suggests that the problem is not one of insufficient demand.
The number of stay-at-home fathers in the US increased in the aftermath of the last recession, as many men were thrown out of work and became unemployed for long periods of time. In recent years, however, more American men are taking on stay-at-home parenting roles because they want to, rather than because they can’t find work, Preeti Varathan reports at Quartz:
Since 1970, the share of stay-at-home dads not looking for work in the US rose from less than 1% to about 4% of all married fathers with a child under 18. It used to be the case that many more stay-at-home dads were actively seeking work, but in the past five years many more fathers are choosing to stay at home with their kids.
To be clear, although their numbers are on the rise, the share of men staying home by choice lags far behind women. While 4% of dads chose to leave the workforce and stay at home in 2016, defined as a dad with a working partner and a child under 18, 28% of mothers did the same. … Although some stay-at-home dads would rather be working, since 2012 a clear majority stay home by choice, and many are energized to be caretakers.
Other recent studies have also found that American men are increasingly interested in playing more active or primary roles in parenting their children, though the burden of child care still falls mostly on women, and men who eschew paid work to raise children are still often stigmatized for doing so.
At Lexology, attorneys Alexa E. Miller and Noreen Cull of Drinker Biddle & Reath LLP discuss a charge filed with the US Equal Employment Opportunity Commission in June by JPMorgan Chase employee Derek Rotondo, who claims that the bank’s parental leave policy discriminated against him and other working fathers by “relying on a sex-based stereotype that mothers are the primary caretakers of children”:
According to the charge, Mr. Rotondo requested primary caregiver leave prior to the birth of his child to take advantage of J.P. Morgan’s generous parental leave policy which offers “primary caretakers” 16 weeks of paid leave to care for and bond with a new child. “Non-primary caretakers” are afforded 2 weeks of paid leave under the policy. Mr. Rotondo claims that the company’s human resources department explained that mothers are presumed to be the primary caretakers and that he would only be considered the primary caretaker (and receive 16 weeks of paid leave) if he could demonstrate that his wife had either returned to work or was medically incapable of caring for the child. Women, on the other hand, are automatically designated as the primary caretaker without satisfying the same eligibility criteria, according to the charge. Mr. Rotondo was unable to qualify as the primary caretaker because his wife, a teacher, was on summer break and in good health.
Some employers utilize “primary” and “secondary” caregiver labels in parental leave policies to promote gender neutrality. The challenge for such employers, however, is how to define and designate who is the primary caregiver without making gender-based assumptions. This approach can also lead to inconsistent application of benefits for varying family dynamics.
Many US organizations that used to only offer parental leave to birth mothers have expanded them in recent years to enable new fathers to take paid leave as well (as well as to accommodate same-sex couples and those who become parents through adoption and surrogacy), but some of these organizations’ policies still offer disparate benefits for “primary” and “secondary” caregivers. Campbell Soup Company, for example, rolled out a new policy last year that is gender neutral, as is JPMorgan’s, insofar as it does not distinguish between mothers and fathers, but it does grant different amounts of leave to primary and secondary caregivers.