Encouraging gender equality by supporting working fathers

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Guests at the shared parental leave toolkit launch
The Equal Parenting Project at the University of Birmingham launched a new Fathers in the Workplace Toolkit in the House of Commons this week. The Toolkit helps organisations to better support working fathers and ultimately foster working environments where mothers and fathers have equal opportunities.

Whilst the introduction of Shared Parental Leave in 2015 sought to provide the framework for parents to share childcare in the first year after birth or adoption, research from The Equal Parenting Project has exposed significant barriers which are preventing fathers making the most of the policy.

Dr Holly Birkett and Dr Sarah Forbes, Co-Directors of the Project, uncovered several reasons why fathers are not taking up parental leave options. These include cultural expectations, concerns about career development, financial disincentives and lack of understanding about policies.

To combat this, the innovative Fathers in the Workplace Toolkit provides practical resources to deliver support for fathers at work and give parents more choices around childcare in the early years. It serves as a one-stop-shop for organisations large and small, and offers guidance on:

  • How to set up an inclusive parenting group which encourages fathers to be more involved;
  • How to effectively implement a returners programme for fathers who have taken longer periods of leave;
  • Developing an organisational ‘parenting passport’ with a parent’s caring responsibilities and support needs, helping to create an understanding between the employee and their employer so they don’t have to keep repeating these as they move around the organisation.

Supported by former Chair of the Women and Equalities Select Committee, Rt Hon Maria Miller MP, who hosted the launch event, the Toolkit is available to all organisations free of charge.

The Project offers a leading example of how research can have real impact for real people. In the words of Dr Birkett:

‘We do not want our research to sit in a journal. We want it to effect real change.’

Looking beyond academia, Dr Birkett and Dr Forbes have engaged with policy makers, practitioners and individuals both in the UK and beyond to ensure that the Project is offers practical recommendations to encourage equality in the workplace.

Quote on shared parental leave

As International Women’s Day approaches, organisations, big and small, are all too aware of the ongoing challenges in breaking down gender barriers. Best practice models overseas show that to achieve truly inclusive workplaces it is vital to challenge assumptions that gender equality is ‘a women’s issue’.

After Shared Parental Leave was introduced, the Icelandic government introduced a ‘Barbershop Toolbox’ campaign to challenge stereotypes about gender roles in families. Ninety percent of fathers in Iceland now take up parental leave and Iceland has been crowned the best country in the world for gender equality for the 12th consecutive year by the World Economic Forum’s Global Gender Gap Index report.

Inspired by this work, Dr Birkett and Dr Forbes are now collaborating with policy makers in the UK to build on the Toolkit and inform the development of existing Shared Parental Leave policies to ensure equal parenting is an option for all working parents. They are calling for:

  • Better financial incentives for Shared Parental Leave;
  • The publication of flexible working policies and family-friendly policies for organisations with 250 employees or more;
  • Compulsory action plans for gender pay gap reporting;
  • A review of the eligibility criteria for shared parental leave to include groups such as self-employed parents;
  • More allocated leave for fathers in the first year after birth or adoption;
  • Implementation of neo-natal leave;
  • Time and support for fathers’ mental health issues.

Providing the framework for organisations to enable fathers to spend time with their children in the early years is crucial to supporting all working parents. The Toolkit provides a step in the right direction, but it’s clear that the UK still has a long way to go if government and organisations want to deliver on aspirations for true gender equality in the workplace.

The Fathers in the Workplace Toolkit is available online. A policy brief on the Toolkit can be found on the Public Affairs webpage.

If you are planning any kind of policy engagement activity it’s a good idea to drop us a line in the public affairs team at publicaffairs@contacts.bham.ac.uk before you get started and the team will be happy to advise you further.

Author: Elizabeth Kirsch, Public Affairs Manager and Deputy Head of Marketing and Communications, College of Social Science

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