The advancement of parental leave



Amongst the many ways organisations are looking to improve their diversity, equity and inclusion strategies, parental leave has become one of the latest company benefits to come under review.

Currently, the law only requires maternity leave to be granted to the birth mother of a child - up to 52 weeks. In addition, for the past twenty years, fathers have been given two weeks of paternity leave to help look after mother and baby, with a legal requirement to be paid at only half of the minimum wage. However, companies have the choice to pay more.

While this may have seemed ground-breaking at the time it was introduced, it seems somewhat outdated in today’s diverse society. Only 32% of fathers claimed paternity leave in the UK last year, which researchers attribute to the rising cost of living compared to statutory paternity pay, which has not kept up with inflation, meaning that many families can’t afford to lose the income.

As attitudes have changed around the role of fathers and the structure of families, businesses are beginning to realise that they must offer suitable parental leave options for all primary and secondary caregivers if they want to be genuinely inclusive.

Ringing the changes

Employers are all too aware that in the war for talent, candidates can be picky about whom they work for, and having a solid D,E&I offering now ranks among the highest priorities for many employees, with around 50% of workers stating that they would move jobs to improve their wellbeing and work/life balance.

This includes parental leave and LGBTQIA+ equity and inclusion, whereby organisations must recognise that parents can be non-heterosexual, different genders or non-gender conforming and that babies may be the product of birth, surrogacy or adoption. Companies’ parental leave policies should reflect this and offer equal time off for all parents, not just birth mothers.

The good news is that according to a recent Employee Benefits poll, 69% of employers said that they are already offering equal parental leave for all parents, including surrogacy and adoption. The survey findings also showed that out of the remaining respondents, another 10% were considering implementing changes to their parental leave policies in the near future.

Many companies are now getting on board with the idea, including insurance giant Aviva, who said they want to be recognised as having a ‘family-friendly culture’ as part of their D,E&I efforts. Their research identified that 80% of fathers working in the business had taken up to five months of parental leave, highlighting that secondary caregivers want to take time off but can be hindered by the unsuitable 2-week statutory legal offering for paternity leave.

Another forward-thinking firm is the consumer health organisation, Haleon. With over 22,000 employees, the company announced last month that all its staff, regardless of gender or sexuality, would be entitled to 26 weeks of fully paid parental leave, covering biological birth, surrogacy and adoption. Haleon cited the initiative as:

a commitment to give equal opportunities for all of its employees to focus on raising a family, while safe in the knowledge that their careers can continue to flourish

as part of their more comprehensive D,E&I strategy to help make them an employer of choice.

The future of parental benefits

Now that organisations are levelling their parental leave across the caregiving spectrum, how else can companies further their offering to improve the employee experience?

Global management consultants McKinsey seems to have come up with some answers in the form of two initiatives to extend parental benefits. The first is a re-boarding programme where staff are supported in transitioning back to work after a long period away from their job while on parental leave. It includes a re-integration scheme to help ensure returning employees can maintain their career growth rather than having to ‘play catchup’. The second initiative is a company healthcare package covering any complex medical procedures necessary for some same-sex couples to conceive. The company’s chief diversity and inclusion officer said:

We hope these changes allow parents to focus on family—then successfully return to doing the work they love.”

It appears that big business is on board with supporting families, which can be good for their staff recruitment and retention, help foster an inclusive work environment, and benefits employees, their families and society.

If you are looking for talented individuals to help develop your D,E&I strategies, talk to our expert HR recruitment team at McGregor Boyall today.