By Cariad Ingles
Insurance company Aviva has recently taken the decision to offer equal parental leave for both men and women, with six months paid leave across the board for both. They intend to offer the same benefit of up to one year’s leave, including 26 weeks of basic full pay. This, according to the company, is “regardless of gender, sexual orientation or how they became a parent”. This is a huge step forward in terms of equality between not only men and women, but also between biological parents and those who may have adopted or used a surrogate.
The decision couldn’t have arrived sooner for the UK, as a recent study published by the Fatherhood Institute revealed that British men spend just twenty-four minutes caring for their child, for every hour that a woman spends. While a strong reason for this was the design of the parental leave system, there are other reasons also. The continuing gender pay gap makes it largely unfeasible for a young family to accept a dip in income due to a father leaving work, and with only 25.8% of the UK’s part-time workforce being made up of men, they appear to have less time than women to devote to a new family. Along with this, the widespread failure of family services to support new fathers means that social work, maternity services and early years care is very much directed towards the mother, completely failing to reach out and engage with new fathers. How can fathers be expected to achieve the same level of bonding as a mother with children they’re forced to have no time for, and essentially can’t afford to see?
Aside from working life, the disparity between parents runs deeper. Studies show the massive gender imbalance in childcare and other domestic work as a key element of the issue, with women undertaking an average of twice as many domestic duties as men. This is despite the fact that trends show that fathers who participate in childcare and other domestic duties tend to raise sons who are more willing to accept the concept of gender equality, while the daughters of these types of father also tend to aspire to higher-paying jobs.
This is where Aviva’s equal parental leave decision is so welcome. More than two-thirds of fathers say that they would happily work less in order to spend more time with their children, with evidence showing that men who took time off after the birth of a child were much more likely to help with duties such as night feeds as long as one year later.
Shared responsibility means that a difficult job is carried out just as well, using less of the energy of those responsible. So, if parenting is shared, then it stands to reason that parents will have far more time and energy to spare, making happier, healthier households. The Aviva equal parental leave policy is a step in the right direction for UK businesses, one that may pave the way for a brighter, fairer future, benefitting both parents and children alike.