Inequalities in pay and employment between women and men are not going to disappear without tackling inequalities in parenting. At the moment 93% of parents taking time out of work or working part-time to look after young children are women.
But this is partly because the law itself is biased. In short, the legal minimum is that mothers receive 90% pay (with no upper limit) for 6 weeks, followed by around £150 a week for 33 weeks. Fathers receive around £150 for 2 weeks. The mother can share her weeks with the father, but the statutory minimum for this is also only around £150 a week. So public policy in the UK is clear that there are mothers and there are fathers, with different entitlements for each, and that the default is for mothers to do the bulk of childcare. Many employers then build on this and offer packages that are more generous but even more lopsided.
In my view, we should start from a presumption of equality and neutrality, with parental leave based on ‘parents’ of whatever gender, whatever sexual orientation and whether following birth, adoption or surrogacy. It’s true of course that childbirth is an unequal burden, but that is also a reason for new mothers’ partners to be at home. And relying on women to look after children in their first 12 months will often set the tone for future years of parenting.
In contrast, Iceland is an exemplary model. As of 1 January 2020, each parent gets 5 months’ leave, with an extra 2 months to share between them (giving a total of 12 months, at 80% of pay – though with a ceiling). UK policy should move in a similar direction.
But employers can act instead of / in advance of the government. So here’s a (hopefully growing) list of UK employers with gender-blind parental policies:
- Bloomberg (26 weeks at full pay. 2015)
- Etsy (26 weeks at full pay. March 2016)
- Aviva (26 weeks at full pay. November 2017)
- The Telegraph (26 weeks at full pay. September 2018)
- Investec (26 weeks at full pay?)
- Novartis (26 weeks at full pay. March 2019)
- Diageo (26 weeks at full pay. April 2019)
- Baillie Gifford (26 weeks at full pay plus 13 weeks at half pay. April 2019)
- Volvo Cars (26 weeks at 80%(?) of pay. May 2019)
- Standard Life Aberdeen (40 weeks at full pay. October 2019)
- Vodafone – by 2021 (16 weeks at full pay. October 2019)
- Bain & Company – by 2021 (26 weeks at full pay. November 2019)
- Save the Children (12 weeks at full pay. November 2019)
Hats off to them!
Let me know if you hear of any employers that should be added.
And maybe talk to your own employer about getting on the list!