By Leigh Lafever-Ayer, HR Director, UK and Ireland, of Enterprise Rent-A-Car

Imagine you are interviewing someone for a job at your company. You’ve thrown some tough questions at the candidate, but they’ve responded well. You and your colleagues on the panel are happy that you’ve heard everything they need, so you invite the interviewee to ask a question or two about your company and the role they are hoping to take on.

How would you react if the candidate asked about the company’s parental leave policies? Would it set alarm bells ringing and bring up the prospect of a promising new hire leaving work in a few months’ time?

For some candidates, it’s sensible to ask about company parental leave policy. After all, if he or she is hoping to start a family some day or have another child, it would help to be clear on company policy. Yet, for many going for a new job, it seems like a bold – even unwise – thing to ask.

This view was revealed in a survey we undertook that investigated attitudes towards parental leave among employers and employees. We found that the vast majority (71%) of employees aged 20-28 hadn’t asked about parental leave policies during job interviews. What’s more, 26% had found it necessary to lie about plans to start a family, to increase their chances of getting the job.

The UK Government’s decision to introduce legislation to give the opportunity for men and women to split the 52-week entitlement for parental leave from April 2015 is another positive move towards increasing equality in the workplace. But its effect in shifting attitudes among businesses might be limited unless employee and employer are able to be more open.

One of the main aims of parental leave reform is to give women a greater opportunity to continue working after giving birth. However, at present, there is no sign that women are feeling more confident about their ability to have a family without risking undermining their career progression. Their fears are not unfounded – 58% of recruiters we surveyed admitted that women of childbearing age continue to suffer discrimination simply because they may have to take time out to care for young children.

And the issue is no longer just one for women to be concerned about. Men can now take up to six months’ paternity leave, so they have a much greater stake in their employers’ approach to parental leave. Our research showed that a third thought the latest reforms would have a negative impact on men. It is early days, but so far the only equalising effect of Shared Parental Leave has been for both women and men to feel discriminated against for their hopes to start a family. As things stand, men are just as reticent as women to discuss wanting to having children with employers.

The fact remains that people want to have children and want to progress in their careers. The better employers will know that to attract and retain the best staff they need to have family friendly policies. If the company is supportive, it will put them ahead in the competition for talent and help create loyalty.

There needs to be greater understanding and openness about parental leave, and it can start in the recruitment process. Men and women should feel at ease asking about parental leave and not feel they are doing themselves a disservice. And from the employer’s point of view, it can be beneficial to have an idea of when employees might decide to have children, and talk about what it means for their career and also what it might mean for business planning.

Our research suggests that both employers and employees are uneasy about the potential image of parental leave, especially on perceptions of how serious employees, male and female, are about their careers. As with any diversity policy, change must be driven from senior management if it is to be replicated across an organisation.

Whether employers like it or not, parental leave is going to affect us all. And businesses need to be ready to employees who have families.

Our research showed that as many as four-out-of-five men, and nine-out-of-10 women, don’t want to work full time after they have their next baby. They want flexibility and time with their families.

Frank conversations about parental leave can be key to creating greater trust between employer and employee. They can be vital in attracting and retaining the best talent. Which means the interview is perhaps the best time to start the discussion with employees.