As we enter the 2020s, there are still obstacles preventing working fathers from taking paid parental leave
As we’re moving towards creating a more diverse global workforce, the issue of paternity leave remains a hot topic. Why? It reflects wider attitudes to gender equality in the workplace, and it exposes aspects of global employment culture that could be more progressive and more relevant to modern families.
A recent report by Unicef analysed the amount of legally protected annual leave for new parents in 41 of the world’s richest countries. 40 of them offered paid leave for new mothers, while just 26 offered it for new fathers. The countries offering the most generous paternity leave are Japan (30 weeks at full pay) and South Korea (15 weeks paid at reduced rate). At the other end of the scale is the US, where national paid paternity leave is non-existent (nor is maternity leave), although some states are beginning to introduce their own schemes that pay a percentage of an employee’s salary. The situation in the UK is only slightly better – working fathers get two weeks’ paid leave.
That being said, regardless of how generous a nation’s paternity pay is, this doesn’t necessarily mean working fathers are taking advantage of it. For example, despite Japan offering the longest paid leave, the report found that, of those who qualified for it, just over 5% took it. This shows that a stigma remains around working fathers taking time away from their jobs. Of course, this is something working mothers experience too, but the reinforcement of traditional gender roles seems to be discouraging men from taking time off for their family, or splitting paid leave with female partners.
Recently, Japanese Environment Minister Shinjiro Koizumi hit the headlines after announcing he will be taking paternity leave. Certain lawmakers criticised him for doing so, and suggested he was neglecting his public duty as a cabinet minister (despite the fact Koizumi has said he will only be taking about two weeks’ paid leave over three months). But Koizumi’s public announcement of his plan is in line with the goals of Japanese prime minister Shinzo Abe, who wants to encourage more men to take paternity leave as a way of pushing workplace gender equality. Known for his progressive policies, Abe’s “womenomics” policy for boosting the number of women in employment has led to 2m new female employees joining Japan’s workforce.
Perhaps examples of more high-profile figures taking paternity leave will provide working fathers with an example they can follow. Having visible positive role models is key to changing people’s beliefs, and help in making paid parental leave become more of a cultural norm. This is the case in Sweden, where parents can decide to split 480 days of paid parental leave between them – 28% of working fathers opt to take it. What’s more, the county’s policy explicitly recognises the paid paternity rights of same-sex parents – another area where most nations are severely lacking, and something that needs to be challenged.
Creating equal opportunities for genders to balance their parenting duties with their careers is not only crucial for diversity in the workforce – it also allows both people in a couple to achieve a better work/life balance and bond with their young children. Companies that offer flexible-working policies demonstrate a commitment to helping new parents return to work, regardless of their gender. By allowing parents to have more control over when and where they work –by allowing them to work part-time, from home, around kids’ needs, or access flexible workspace closer to home – employers show an understanding of people’s needs beyond the office.
For HR managers, speaking with new parents about what they want from flexible working and showing willingness to accommodate them is a huge step in the right direction towards achieving gender equality in the workplace.
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