Let me tell you about gender equality and an eye-opening experience I had around 7 years ago.
My wife and I were expecting our first child. She had enhanced maternity pay giving her the option to take a decent length of time to look after our baby during the first year.
I go to check my paternity leave policy. Two weeks (max), at statutory pay. No more. Bare minimum. For those who don’t know, statutory pay is a little over £150 per week.
I’ll be honest that I was surprised, and disappointed. Mostly because I would have loved to have spent more time with my child in that first year, but I couldn’t, because we couldn’t afford to.
And looking back now, it actually makes me really annoyed.
Annoyed because I had to take two weeks’ low pay and 2 weeks annual leave to be able to even spend the first 4 weeks with my first (and later, second) child.
Annoyed because going back to work felt massively rushed. Mum and baby had only come home from hospital towards the end of the first week, and by the time I went back to work we’d barely got our heads around feeding, car seats, whether the buggy fits on the bus, and the 101 other things your need to learn pretty quickly with a new child.
Annoyed because I spent hours in traffic jams trying to get home from work for bathtime and bedtime, only to be faced with a tired, crying child (which is often what you get at 6pm). And I still think there were many things that happened in that first year that I missed because I wasn’t there.
And I feel particularly annoyed because the narrative you hear from government is typically that dads don’t want to spend time with their kids, while citing the low take up of shared parental leave (again, if you don’t know, this involves the mum giving up some of her maternity leave and “gifting it” to the dad).
Honestly, if we’re ever going to start to move the dial properly on gender balanced parenting this isn’t good enough. They’ve been doing better for years in Sweden. Fathers and mothers with the same rights to use parental leave. And guess what, if you pay for it, fathers will take the time off. And in many cases this solo parenting leads to excellent dad–child relationships and a more equal distribution of childcare.
So, that’s what we’re doing at redthread, sticking to that principle of equality, and weaving that through all our family friendly policies, specifically the paternity and adoption ones.
That means at least 8 weeks fully paid leave, irrespective of gender.
We’re also making much of that time flexible, so you can take a day a week, rather than having to take it in big chunks. I’m hoping this provides the option to regularly spend time with your child – rather than here-one-week-gone-the-next – if you want.
It’s not perfect, and it’s certainly going to be expensive! But it’s the right thing to do. And coupled with our flexible working patterns hopefully provides our team with the support they need to enjoy family life, in whatever form it takes.