By now we’re all aware of workforce gender discrepancies in equal pay and women in leadership positions, despite women and men starting 50/50 into employment.
While advances are being made in the increase of elective paternity leave, data has shown that men are often choosing not to take it due to male stereotypes, stigmas associated with a lack of dedication or the fear of being penalised at work. Our contributor Aviva sits in the financial services industry which is particularly susceptible to these negative perceptions. Paternity leave was once called the ‘kiss of death’, limiting the prospects of the father who dares take advantage of this employee benefit. These issues boil down to problems in workplace culture, and positive behaviour changes may take time but are essential in order to break these harmful norms.
In the UK, fathers are entitled to one to two weeks of paid paternity leave and eligible parents can share up to 50 weeks of leave (up to 37 weeks paid). Beyond the statutory entitlements, many companies such as Avivia have been offering progressive parental leave policies.
According to Sabina Khanom, Senior Global Inclusion Partner at Aviva, the firm wanted employees to know that by giving men and women equal opportunities to be caregivers at home, they were also working to give women and men equal opportunities to have successful careers. To embed this, Aviva started offering men the same parental leave as women in 2017, allowing all employees to take 12 months of leave when they have a baby, including 26 weeks at full basic pay. The results of this policy have been incredibly positive: since November 2017 almost every new dad at Aviva in the UK has opted to take more than the statutory two weeks of paid paternity leave. Two thirds of eligible fathers chose to take six months off work with their new arrivals and 95% took more than a fortnight. In the UK, around 500 Aviva employees have used the policy in the first ten and a half months, around half of whom were male.
But this culture shift didn’t happen overnight: Aviva took many steps to normalise men taking paternity leave. They circulated the policy widely, communicated it across many channels and ran a campaign to educate employees on paternal leave policies, which are often considered overly complex and difficult to understand. Beyond raising awareness, Aviva encouraged men in leadership positions to share their stories and serve as role models.
There are many reasons why paid leave is good for business – regardless of size – including gender equity advancements and talent retention and recruitment. At Aviva, it’s also believed that fathers who took time off for paternity leave returned with a fresh perspective, enabling Aviva as a business to design and market products that meet their customer’s needs more effectively.
While the extent of leave may differ between businesses, many of the same methods and benefits of encouraging paternity leave are translatable to smaller businesses, too. Even if your business is unable to offer the full extent of leave offered by Aviva, research demonstrates that encouraging fathers to take advantage of paternity benefits can lead to higher employee retention and job satisfaction, which both balance out the cost.