By Olivia Hill, Chief HR Officer of the Association of Accounting Technicians

New rules on shared parental leave are about to come into force in England, Scotland and Wales. Anyone with a baby due on or after 5 April, or who adopts a child on or after that date may now be entitled to Shared Parental Leave.

This means that mothers and their partners will be able to share parental leave and pay following the first two weeks after their baby is born. Eligible parents can share up to 50 weeks of leave and 37 weeks of pay in the first year of having a child, instead of only the mother taking time out.

The new rules are a welcome change and are designed to give parents much-needed flexibility to decide when to return to work. Instead of the mother being expected to take all the leave and take care of the child, families can now have the choice for the other partner to do so, allowing them to spend time together in the early stages of a child’s life.

There have been calls for shared parental leave for some time because of the benefits which it is hoped it will bring. Amongst those benefits is increasing equal opportunities for women. Instead of having to take a year out of their career, during which they often lose momentum, they can share that leave with their partner so that they’re not out of the workforce for too long. Research from my organisation AAT (Association of Accounting Technicians) has shown that women on maternity leave begin to lose confidence in their ability to return to work around 11 months after giving birth; now that they have the option to share that leave, we should hopefully see more women feeling motivated and confident about returning to the workforce, and not feeling out of the loop. Further research has also shown that half of women would consider not having children because of the risk to their career, and that 49% of women feel their current career doesn’t offer them the flexibility they would need to care for a family; these new parental leave rules should help change that.

The equality the change brings will also benefit men as well, as they will have the chance to take more time off work and enjoy greater responsibilities for bringing up their children. Additionally, in some households, the mother may earn more than her partner. By allowing their partner to take more of the parental leave instead, they can make sure their household finances are not damaged by the arrival of their child. Mothers sharing parental leave with fathers should also help break down gender stereotypes of women always being the primary carers for children.

AAT often sees students coming to study our accounting qualifications because of the freedom of choice it will allow them to have. Many of them are parents who need qualifications that can be studied for flexibly, or who want to get an accounting qualification because it will allow them to open their own practices, work for themselves and choose their own hours so they can also enjoy their family lives. The shared parental leave change will allow them, and others in different sectors to enjoy even more flexibility.

A recent [nurl=http://www.payandbenefitsmagazine.co.uk/pab/article/most-couples-would-consider-sharing-parental-allowances-12351999]report from the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills (BIS)[/nur] said that more than 80 per cent of people thinking about starting a family would consider taking Shared Parental Leave and Pay, and that two-thirds of those who were already parents would have considered taking it if it had been available to them. The new changes may see a seismic shift for businesses, who need to look at how the possibility of fathers taking leave as well as mothers may affect their organisations.