Baby and dad

Today (5 April) marks the one year anniversary of the launch of Shared Parental Leave - a revolutionary policy designed to help women back to work and give men the opportunity to have more of a role in their new born babies' lives.

One year since its launch, new research suggests that Shared Parental Leave has not had the revolutionary effect the government was hoping. In fact, a study by My Family Care and Women's Business Council has found that women are reluctant to share their leave, and just 1% - yes, one per cent - of new fathers have taken up the option of sharing parental leave.

The combined survey of 1,000 workers and 200 HR directors found that 55% of women would not want to share their maternity leave with their partner. It findings suggested that taking SPL was very much dependent on a person’s individual circumstances, particularly on their financial situation and the paternity pay on offer from their employer.

My Family Care and Women's Business Council said the main reasons why men have chosen not to take up SPL are financial affordability, lack of awareness, and unwillingness from women to share their maternity leave. Four in five (80%) of both men and women agreed that a decision to share leave would be dependent on their finances and their employer’s enhancement of SPL.

But, while take up is still low, the research found that men are interested in taking SPL in the future, with almost two thirds (63%) of men who already have young children, and are considering having more, saying it was likely they would choose to take SPL.

Ben Black, founder of My Family Care, which helps businesses introduce family friendly ways of working, said: “It is still very early days for Shared Parental Leave. While take up is low, its introduction was a fantastic step forward when it comes to equality in the workplace; a policy that proves that women are no longer expected to be the main childcare provider, while men are no longer expected to be the main breadwinner.

“The key thing for businesses is to help their employees combine work and family, by providing them with choices and enabling them to carry on with their careers while having a family. More and more we’re going to hear fantastic stories of fathers, at senior levels, who have taken Shared Parental Leave, and once these stories filter through, and the notion of sharing leave in this way becomes ‘normal’, then it will be accepted practice and that 1% will gradually increase. Of course, all change takes time and while it hasn’t so far been the cultural change that many were clamouring for, I suspect with many companies enhancing paternity leave, momentum will grow.”

Of the 200 employers asked, the majority said that they enhanced both maternity (77%) and paternity (65%) pay. The core reasons were to be consistent with their culture of fairness and equality, and to increase retention and engagement of both men and women. Those companies who haven’t enhanced SPL did so because of the potential costs involved primarily, followed by their view that they’d be better off ‘waiting and seeing’ if the opportunity proved popular.

Emer Timmons, chair of the ‘Men as Change Agents’ working group at the Women’s Business Council, said: "One year on, we can see that some fathers have embraced the opportunity to spend time with their young families but that there is still a long way to go for others. Increasing flexibility in the workplace was a key recommendation of the Women’s Business Council, designed to give women more control over career choices, and I am delighted to see that My Family Care is working with enlightened organisations to kick-start the culture change that is needed to give fathers the confidence to take time off for childcare. Increased flexibility is good for women, good for families, good for business and ultimately the economy, so it’s a win-win situation all round."