By Dr Sarah Forbes and Dr Holly Birkett, co-directors of the Equal Parenting Project
Over the past three years, we have been researching how parents navigate the pressures of combining working and parenting. As co-directors of the Equal Parenting Project, our research has identified a pattern of parents who are not entitled to maternity leave wanting to spend more time caring for their children in the first year after birth or adoption, but facing multiple barriers to fulfilling this.
As organisations are seeing the composition of their workforces change alongside employee expectations, they are becoming more keen than ever to learn from best practice and implement research-informed initiatives. To break down many of the barriers parents not entitled maternity leave face, the Equal Parenting Project developed the Fathers in the Workplace Toolkit. The toolkit is designed to be a free tool and one-stop shop to help organisations of all shapes and sizes better support the working fathers they employ.
The Fathers in the Workplace Toolkit is focused around four key areas where fathers particularly face significant barriers:
- Policies – what support they are entitled to and can realistically use as well as the financial implications
- Culture – how the organisation supports fathers combining work and parenting including the impact on progression, bonuses and career
- Communication – whether their organisation makes them aware of what is available or what their statutory rights are
- Return to work – their reintegration into the workplace
In order to address these barriers in a practical way the toolkit is broken down into two sections, one for large organisations and the other for SME’s. Within each of these sections, there are five practical modules including: the parenting passport, inclusive communications, return to work, inclusive policies and parenting groups. This freely available toolkit, is a one-stop shop, can be used by any organisation, and consists of free online resources to help better support fathers in their workplaces.
Top tips for organisations to better support fathers in the workplace
- Set up an inclusive parenting group
More and more parents want opportunities to engage with other parents who might be facing similar situations and obstacles as them. Setting up an organisation wide parenting group or supporting employees to join a virtual one is extremely beneficial. Parenting groups can be a great way to distribute information of relevance, for example, they can improve knowledge related to policies, what flexible working opportunities there might be in the organisation, how Shared Parental Leave in Touch (SPLIT) and Keep in Touch (KIT) days work or how return to work is managed.
A large business might be able to facilitate an onsite or online parenting group to support employees, communicate and explain parenting policies. Large multi-nationals might even have different parenting groups in different locations or separate groups for parents with children at different ages. Smaller businesses can look at externally facilitated groups which they might encourage staff to join along with supplying a list of other externally provided resources that new parents might be interested in.
- Create a parenting passport
Parents and particularly fathers, may feel uncomfortable re-explaining family circumstances and support requirements to each new manager when they move through an organisation or return from a period of leave. This can be avoided by implementing the use of the Parenting Passport as this will encourage open conversations between fathers and line managers around the caring responsibilities they have.
A Parenting Passport is a ‘living’ document, which records information about a parent’s caring responsibilities and support needs. The passport can encourage an understanding between the parent employee and their organisation regarding their particular requirements over time.
- Improve communications on topics of relevance to parents
Often working parents are not aware of policies that they are eligible to use or they misunderstand who may use particular policies. The Equal Parenting Project has identified the need for better communication in the workplace to improve awareness, overcome misinformation, promote a more inclusive culture and ensure more parents are using policies they wish to use.
Better promotion of the policies available and the different ways families can use them can make a big difference. In the case of fathers, they may feel that taking SPL is not acceptable, this is where the use of Fatherhood Champions will help make policies appear accessible as well as help overcome any perceived barriers preventing fathers from requesting the leave.
- Develop a return to work plan for fathers taking longer period of leave
For many organisations, they may be prepared and attuned to supporting mothers on their return to work but may not have processes in place to support fathers who have taken an extended period of leave. For many new fathers, returning to work after the birth of their child can be a hard time, and it can be difficult to find support in the workplace or maintain a work-life balance. It is recommended that the line manager has a meeting prior to the employee taking leave, this could be to discuss issues such as how pay and bonuses will be treated during leave. It is important to ensure fathers are assured of their entitlements and feel supported.
- Writing inclusive policies which enhances pay above statutory if possible
A well written paternity leave, unpaid parental leave or SPL policy demonstrates that organisations are serious about supporting leave for parents. Employers must make sure that they clearly communicate their parental leave policies since the clarity and accessibility of information clearly impacts the take-up of the policies. Policies should be free of jargon and cover: statutory entitlements, eligibility criteria, and outline exactly what benefits are available and processes followed by the employee and employer. By doing this and clearly outlining to employees the leave and pay options available to parents and how to apply for them, more parents are likely to engage and use such policies.
Larger organisations should consider paying above statutory levels for their paternity and shared parental leave policies (if they have paid above statutory for their maternity leave policy) as the negative impact on family finances is one of the most significant reasons for families are not using policies such as SPL.