Barriers and benefits of Shared Parental Leave

On Monday, I will head to the office for the first time in six months as my maternity leave ends and my husband takes over at home as primary carer for our baby boy.

According to figures, take up of Shared Parental Leave (SPL) is as low as 2% and with enhanced packages mostly reserved for mothers, it’s easy to understand why. Some of the large private sector companies that really want to do their bit for gender equality, offer generous packages for Dads but for many, SPL is a luxury they just can’t afford to take up.

As someone who campaigned for parents to have the right to share their leave in whatever way they see fit, it’s only right that I would swap with my husband and let him take the strain at home while I go back to work. Financially, it makes sense for us too which is what SPL has always been about – families being able to manage their responsibilities with the main earner able to continue to work and baby being cared for by a parent regardless of which one it is.

Looking back, I remember how many people said I would change my mind both about sharing my leave and about going back full time but I haven’t and I’m ready to go back to a job I love and let father and son have their own time to bond.

As the big day approaches, I’m excited at the prospect of a full nights’ sleep and freedom to just ‘pop to the shop’. Plus, actually, I think it makes sense to have three months to recover from so many sleepless nights before we both have to adjust to a new life in which we battle to balance work and family life.

In terms of Dad’s thoughts, it’s his last day at work tomorrow and he is looking forward to having lots of quality time with his son and continuing to show him the world. He is both excited and apprehensive about having three months away from work for the same reasons as many of us mums. Some of the things he has mentioned include concerns about a reduction in wages and how we will manage, missed career opportunities and a fear of being left behind at work.

I do feel a little sad that this special time is nearly over but I’m happy that my husband will also have the opportunity to care for our child and take an active role. I’ve known all along that I can’t do it all on my own and I’m glad to have the opportunity to share the care right from the beginning.

So what stops more Dads from taking the opportunity? Many mums don’t want to cut their maternity leave short to allow Dad to take a turn and many that are happy to do that can’t afford to. It seems to me that employers should offer the same enhanced package for Shared Parental Leave as they do for Maternity Leave but until they do, the uptake will remain low.

Only yesterday, a campaign to provide access to baby changing facilities for Dads was in the news, highlighting the role of fathers in raising their children. It’s right that the world should change to recognise that children have two parents. Traditional attitudes to gender roles still linger but during my leave, I have come into contact with lots of fathers who are at home caring for their little ones and think this is something that will become more and more common in the future.

Have you taken Shared Parental Leave? How did you find it and what were the benefits for you? Share your thoughts in the comments below.

3minuteleadership.org

Why I think becoming a mum will enhance my leadership skills

Obviously having a baby is a huge event which changes your life forever but aside from the insane personal benefits, I’m convinced that there are professional advantages as well.  Of course there will be challenges to overcome around balancing work and family life which should not be under estimated but even this, once accepted, can help to develop a number of management and leadership skills.

A few years ago, I was doing some coaching with someone looking to take the first step into management and I encouraged her to consider how she would usually get her children to do things they don’t want to do.  At first, she couldn’t see what I was getting at but when she started talking me through, she could see how the techniques she used with her children could be adapted and used in the workplace.  Things like explaining the problem, what needs to change and how they are going to do that; making the children realise that this needs to happen quickly; checking their understanding of the situation; empowering them to take an active role in the process; and praising them when things go well all fit within Kotter’s 8 step process of successful change.

There are lots of other aspects of leadership that I believe will be strengthened too.  Here are just 5 things I think will be different when I get back:

1)      I’ll be a better role model – I know I’m already a role model within the organisation and in the industry, however, at the minute it’s a responsibility that I take seriously but maybe don’t demonstrate at all times in the way that I should.  From the second my baby is born, I can never be off duty, instead, I will be constantly be aware of how my behaviour impacts on those around me and the responsibility I have to live within my values at all times.

2)      My organisational skills will be second to none – my colleagues perceive me to already be very organised but whilst at the minute, I can add appointments into my calendar and make sure I’ve got the right paperwork, I manage to hide my inner chaos beneath a professional façade.  Once there’s a baby in the mix, I won’t be able to leave anything to chance.  Already, I’m making sure we’ve stocked up on essentials at home and all manner of bags are packed, ready for a multitude of eventualities.  In a blog published by Motherly on what new mothers want everyone in the office to know, they put it like this: ‘I now prioritise like nobody’s business, I will prove to be more efficient than anyone else in the team’.  If you thought I was efficient before, you ain’t seen nothing yet!

3)      I’ll bring increased compassion & understanding – the Motherly article puts it as being able to ‘anticipate the needs of others’ which is certainly an aspect but there’s more.  I’ll understand pregnancy and maternity in a way that you can only if you’ve been through it and whilst I already make sure my staff prioritise the school play, swimming gala or sports day, I’ll understand even more why that matters.  I also think I’ll be even more kind and compassionate, noticing the subtle signs that tell me someone is not ok.

4)      I’ll be so much more resilient – I’ve kept going throughout this pregnancy, walking the dog twice a day, every day; flying to give a presentation at 35 weeks; ad making the most of the pregnancy insomnia to get ahead during a busy period – me and my baby already know resilience but I certainly am going to develop so much more!  In my Mumsnet group for August babies, I asked some of the already new and existing mums for any tips for sleep deprivation.  One mum offered two words ‘survival and endurance’.  It’s going to be tough but if I can get through this, I really can do anything.

5)      My perspective will change – over the years, I have learnt to put the challenges into perspective and try not to stress about the things that don’t matter overall.  If I haven’t mastered it already, this change will surely remind me that life is the main goal and that it is always rich in experiences, good and bad but all to be cherished and enjoyed as much as possible.

 

Do you notice any positive changes when you returned to work after having a baby?  Do you have further thoughts on my suggestions above?  Share your experiences in the comments below.

 

3minuteleadership.org

How not to treat your pregnant employees if you want them to keep working for you

Given that at the moment I am expecting my first child, I currently have lots of pregnant friends and I am shocked by the number of things they say about issues faced in the workplace and how they are treated by their employer and colleagues because they are pregnant.  Despite equality laws protecting against this kind of thing, pregnancy discrimination is rife in our workplaces.

Stories I have heard include someone finding out from another colleague details of who has been chosen to cover their role while they are on leave; women being treated like they have left already; and assumptions being made about when and on what basis they will be returning.

People in the workplace seem to forget (or not realise) that it’s the 21st Century and women make a wide range of choices these days.  For a start, Shared Parental Leave means that Dads can stay at home too and increasingly, men are taking a break from the workplace to do just that.  I have of course been asked if I will be giving up work which is laughable in a society of dual income households not to mention the fact that lots of women want a career and don’t believe that having a baby means they have to give this up.

Then you get people assuming you will be returning part-time after the baby is born. Which also isn’t for me (and many others) because I’m likely to do the same work anyway and I want my full pension thank you very much!  Naturally, my husband has not been subjected to any of these questions about his own decisions although I wouldn’t be surprised if he’s been asked about mine.

It isn’t necessary these days and things really have to change, so what should you be doing if you want to be a good employer for those in the family way?

1) Don’t make assumptions and encourage others not to as well – these days, it is more than possible to raise a family and continue working so no matter how well-meaning you are, do not assume women will take 12 months off, return part-time or seek a less demanding role.  Better to assume that they will want to return to the same role at the same capacity and if they want to talk to you about reduced hours or other flexible working arrangements, they will let you know.

2) Ensure those who are preparing to go on any kind of child-related leave are involved in decisions about their role – they might be going on maternity leave but may well return and preferably to the job they left so they will appreciate it if you ask them their views on how to cover the role in their absence.  Discuss their plans for maternity leave and see what level of contact they would like to have while they are away.  Keep in touch days exist for a reason and some women will want to make sure they are used to the best effect.  When decisions have been made, make sure you talk to them and explain what is going to happen and why you have decided to do things that way.

3) Keep in touch – whether they use their keep in touch days or not, make sure they are kept up to speed with any important changes.  Is there something big kicking off that might make them worry for their role?  Update them on developments so that they can feel confident that they are a valued member of the team.

4) Carry out the risk assessment – it’s mandatory for a reason and women will want to make sure that their employer recognises the risks associated to the role and cares about making sure there are no unfair expectations placed on them that might cause harm to their baby.

5) Treat them with respect – while they’re there, while they’re off and when they come back.  Commit to good communication, timely responses or decisions and ensure all discussions are handled with sensitivity.  It will be appreciated and they will be more likely to come back.

I’m sure you made the hire in the first place thinking that person was amazing for the role.  Hopefully, they have proven you right and performed well during their time with you.  If that’s the case, you would want them back, right? Under whatever circumstances they want to return.

So treat them right and you have a good chance that they will want to re-join your fold after they have settled in to their new world order and continue doing the same amazing job they were doing before, probably with even more commitment because they know they are lucky to have a good employer and want to work hard for you.

Does this resonate with you?  Have you experiences of being pregnant in the workplace? Or are you an employer that agrees or is frustrated with these ideas?  Let us know in the comments below.

 

3minuteleadership.org

 

 

 

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