Date: 03/03/2015 Duration: 00:25:02

Parents of babies born or adopted on or after 5 April 2015 will be able to take advantage of shared parental leave, one of the biggest family friendly working reforms in years. But does this legislation do enough to truly suit the needs of the future workforce?

In this podcast we discuss the future of family friendly working and the advantages to be gained from embracing a culture of agile working. We hear from Jo Swinson, Minister for Employment Relations and Consumer Affairs in the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills, and Women and Equalities Minister, about how shared parental leave will work and what she expects the take up to be. Jo also discusses why legislation like shared parental leave will help challenge conceptions in society and drive change to achieve a more level playing field for male and female employees. Tim Munden, Vice President of HR at Unilever, discusses how Unilever are looking to go beyond implementing the new legislation to start incorporating parental and other family absences (like eldercare) into their talent planning pipelines and the importance of line managers and role models in communicating this type of culture. We also speak to Jennifer Liston-Smith from My Family Care about the issue of pay and why employers should consider the business case for embracing family friendly working in terms of recruitment and retention. Jennifer also gives her advice for employers who want to embrace the future of family friendly working, including how to equip managers to handle requests for leave.

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You're reading the transcript to the CIPD podcast series.

Philippa Lamb: Next month family-friendly working gets a significant boost in the shape of new legislation giving parents the right to share leave following the birth, or adoption, of a child. Until now new mothers have qualified for 52 weeks’ paid leave while fathers could take two weeks paternity leave and also qualify for up to 26 weeks additional time off. Under the new rules couples with babies due on or after April 5th will be able to divide up to 50 weeks leave between them so this is a major step towards equality.

Jo Swinson is Minister for Employment Relations and Consumer Affairs and Women and Equalities Minister.

Jo Swinson: Well, the basic principle is that until now we’ve had a situation where mums have been able to take up to a year of maternity leave after their baby’s born and dads have had just two weeks of paternity leave. There was something called ‘additional paternity leave’ but hasn’t been particularly taken up and was quite inflexible. So generally mums have had up to a year, dads have had just two weeks.

That doesn’t really seem very fair in today’s society, either for families, for children, or indeed for workplaces as well and so what we’re doing with shared parental leave is introducing the flexibility for parents to choose how they split that same amount of time but then they can have whatever combination of sharing that leave that works for that particular family.

PL: To give you an idea of how the new rules might work they could mean for example that a mother takes two months of leave, then another two months of leave at the same time as the father, and then she goes back to work while the father remains at home. And this is a big change because until now the law has assumed that the mother will always be the primary caregiver. Jennifer Liston-Smith has 20 years’ experience in consulting, training and coaching. Since 2005 she's been a pioneer of maternity coaching supporting employers including global law firms, investment banks and accountants. Here’s her take on the new system.

Jennifer Liston-Smith: It was intended to achieve two things, the greater participation of women in the workplace and the increase of choice among parents about how they share care which obviously means the inclusion of dads and engagement of dads. So to achieve those two ends is really catching up with where society is going and in that sense it’s legislation that was needed.

PL: So this is one of the biggest family-friendly reforms in years but the government announcing a new type of parental leave might be ringing bells. That's because back in 2011 additional paternity leave arrived. That gave dads or same sex partners the option to take 26 weeks extra leave while the mother went back to work. It was an acknowledgement that fathers might want to stay home and look after their kids but for Jo Swinson it didn’t go far enough.

JS: It is much more flexible than the additional paternity leave which only let the leave be shared after the baby was six months old and it had to be a sort of binary swap, so instead of Mum being on leave then Dad was on leave for the rest of the time. This is going to enable parents to take leave at the same time, and indeed perhaps to take it in several blocks.

PL: The take-up of additional paternity leave, that 2011 reform, has been tiny, less than one in 50 dads, or same sex partners, opted to take time off work to look after their children. So does the government expect shared parental leave to be more popular? Jo Swinson is cautious.

JS: Well, the low end of our expectations would be a bit more than additional paternity leave, so the lowest end is 2% and initially we think 8% is probably about the highest level but it is quite difficult to predict and there have been a range of surveys that have shown anything as much as a third of fathers might take this up.

PL: Of course the hope is that take-up will grow year on year and there is evidence that it might. Additional paternity leave managed just 0.8% take-up in its first year but it grew to 1.4% in the second year, still small but an 80% increase in just 12 months. Another clue that shared parental leave might really ring the changes is that multinationals such as Unilever are already talking about ways to incorporate long paternal absences into their talent planning. Tim Munden is Vice President of HR for the UK and Ireland at Unilever.

Tim Munden: We believe that within five years we should expect to have at least 20% of fathers taking it up.

PL: That high?

TM: And we think it’ll be that high because of the demographic of our workforce which has a lot of young people in it, because of how strong our benefits are. And I think just the generations are changing, so it’s about 20% in some of the Scandinavian countries, I think we’ll get there.

PL: There are still obstacles however, some practical and others cultural, that society will have to overcome before we can hope to match Scandinavia where 20% of fathers take chunks of time away from their careers to help raise their children. The biggest of these obstacles is money. It’s still the case that men earn on average significantly more than women and in 80% of partnerships the father is still the main breadwinner. With statutory pay for parental leave set at just £139.58 a week from 5th April there's no doubt that for some families the maths of a father taking more time off just won't add up. Having said that as Jennifer Liston-Smith points out the number of women out-earning their partners is growing.

JL-S: What we have noticed recently is that it isn’t any longer a traditional set up where you'd have a man who’s earning and therefore a huge loss of earning while the woman takes time out and can sacrifice her job because she's a supplementary earner, a lot of women are breadwinners these days.

PL: Of course some employers already offer enhanced pay for women on maternity leave and some of them may choose to do the same for men taking shared parental leave, but they're under no legal obligation to do so. Here’s Jo Swinson again.

JS: We’ve seen, I think really encouragingly, many companies, I think Shell and PWC and some others have outlined that they’re going to match what they do for maternity pay with shared parental pay, indeed the Civil Service has led on this as well, I'm very pleased, within government and Whitehall that we’re also going to be making sure that the shared parental pay is enhanced.

PL: Despite the administrative and financial challenges for employers policies like shared parental leave are an opportunity for them to distinguish themselves as employers of choice by enhancing pay for both men and women. The birth of children is a big driver for mums and dads to change jobs and employers will need to weigh the potential recruitment and retention wins of doing that very carefully.

JS: That has a huge cost to employers of having to re-recruit and re-train new members of staff. If they can get this right at what is a major life-changing moment in their employees’ lives and be supportive and helpful they also reap a great benefit from employee loyalty.

PL: Which is why getting this issue right is fundamental to the Unilever business plan.

TM: Our consumers are often women and the shoppers are often women and so our business needs to reflect that. So that's a business outcome we need and we’re getting more and more of. Women rising to senior jobs is also really, really important, we measure it and we track it. And so getting gender balance in the more senior levels also really, really matters. And we want that because it will drive the best business outcomes for us and so in the end the greatest measure of all is in the success of the business.

PL: When it comes to recruitment, engagement and retention being an organisation that helps employees to manage their work and family responsibilities harmoniously is key so the business case isn’t hard to grasp. Jennifer Liston-Smith.

JL-S: We’ve got a lot of organisations that have decided to be family-friendly across the board.

PL: For hard commercial reasons?

JL-S: For hard commercial reasons, I mean very often it’s about wanting to be a leader in their field. We know from our own surveys that about 80% of people will look at what the family-friendly provisions are in your organisation when they’re making a choice so there are hard commercial reasons around recruiting and attracting talent and then of course retaining talent.

PL: For Tim Munden far from being a radical step forward shared parental leave doesn’t actually go far enough.

TM: Shared parental leave on its own isn’t going to change things because it is a period of time around and after a birth but then the children have got to be raised, you have to do the whole thing. So I think we’ll continue to talk to our people about family-friendliness, we’ll talk about the raft of things which go from thinking about having a family through to back-up care. We also have things for elder care because whilst we’re focusing in this conversation on shared parental leave the issue that’s probably going to grow even faster for us is employees who have elder care issues and in fact have childcare and elder care at the same time. I think one of the reasons why we’re a highly desirable place to work is because we have agile working as standard. So that's the people’s ability to choose when and where they work, around the needs of the business but around the needs of their family, and that’s vital: it’s a mature, modern workplace. People want that. And that's the kind of way of working that I think everybody benefits from.

PL: But cultural perceptions about the division of labour in child rearing are slow to evolve in some quarters and Jo Swinson has found her Twitter feed to be a revealing barometer of just how negative some men feel about sharing parental leave.

JS: Sometimes I will get some really quite strident comments from blokes saying, “This is not a man’s role it’s a woman’s role to look after children!” And clearly for a section of the population this very concept that dads will be really involved in child rearing is a challenging concept. But I mean I'm a fairly new mum and so I've recently gone through the whole experience of having a baby and engaging in parent and baby groups and the National Childbirth Trust and so on and my experience of doing that recently has been that guys these days do want to be much more involved in that parenting than perhaps a generation ago. And so I think for men who are currently becoming dads this is not such a stretch, it is something which they’re interested in and of course there will be all of those considerations about money and how it’s going to work for the family and there’ll also be the consideration about how long the woman wants to take on maternity leave, because many women will want to have still a very significant chunk of maternity leave and that's absolutely fine. But I think that cultural issue is one that's changing and this will help drive that change.

PL: Some fathers will welcome the new law but for others the negative impact of taking a significant period of time off on their long-term career will take the shine off.

JS: You’re right that one of the barriers that a lot of men suddenly say when they consider this they say, “Oh but that might mean that might have an impact on my career.” And you feel like saying, “Welcome to the world that women have been negotiating for however many decades.”

PL: A recent TUC study found that 60% of women feel side-lined at work the moment they say they’re pregnant and 40% of employers say they’re wary of hiring a woman of child bearing age. And with older mothers becoming more common attitudes like that could hit women of any age from their teens to their mid-40s.

JS: There are definitely some dinosaur attitudes that prevail amongst certain employers.

PL: No that's not niche, that’s big.

JS: No, no, I'm not saying that this is not a significant problem, in fact the other thing to bear in mind about shared parental leave, given that there is pregnancy discrimination actually this is helpful. Because if you’re a woman of child bearing age and there are some employers out there that are going to take that attitude well with shared parental leave they can't just be on the viewpoint that a man might not end up going on parental leave. It’s suddenly no longer something that will only apply to the women who are working for you.

PL: But do you think men would in organisations like that? Aren't they just looking at it as an administrative nightmare and a problem and not really something that men will engage in?

JS: Well, I think ultimately this will be a legal right that men have, so this will be an issue that businesses have to deal with.

PL: Jennifer foresees the same impact.

JL-S: It does level that playing field, if anybody who becomes a parent has options around taking leave in a way that’s a good thing in terms of female talent recruitment and attraction, what I would say about gender roles and what we all need to do, which again I think sometimes gets overlooked is we women need to be willing to let go and stop making kind of daddy day care jokes about guys not being capable of knowing which way to hold a baby and all of the stuff that we do that disempowers men, you know, “Oh I wouldn’t have used the pink one!”

PL: It’s interesting you raise that. Absolutely yeah. And I think that's definitely there isn’t it? And we’ve got research haven’t we saying that women, I think it was less than half of women who were asked about whether they would be willing to give up some of their leave to their male partner said that they wouldn’t, you know, they don’t want to give it up.

JL-S: Yeah that was a Working Mum’s study wasn't it?

PL: Yeah.

JL-S: Yeah, so I think there's a way to go, I think, I'm a mother myself, I happen to be the female breadwinner, I'm the breadwinner in our family but there are parts of our children’s lives which I'm not too fussed about the day to day management but I kind of like to be the director, so, you know, with some involvement in their school choices or whether they’re going to do piano this year or football...

PL: The bigger stuff.

JL-S: ...yeah, so I think there is still for many people a whole bunch of assumptions about gender roles and this brings it to the surface.

PL: Shared parental leave may well prompt a lot of conversations between parents over the division of roles and it’s already prompting organisations, big and small to think hard about how best to make it work.

TM: The nature of our business is one of ongoing service to customers, ongoing production, ongoing management of brands that people want, it isn’t a business that can really have people come in and out because they’re doing casework. And that does present us with challenges so we had been wanting to look at whether we could hardwire into our talent systems the space for people to push pause buttons and all the rest of it and I think where we’ve come out is actually the fundamental thing in this, as in most other things is a good conversation between the individual and their leader, that's what really, really matters. For the company to be really clear about potential, where it sees people going and what they need to do to really deliver on that potential and for individuals to tell us how they feel about that, what they want to do, how they see it, it’s in the maturity of those conversations that all of this happens because in that you can then start to make plans that build people’s various needs.

PL: Obviously women have been dealing with the motherhood penalty since time immemorial in terms of their career outcomes and trading career advancement for time at home with their kids if that's what they choose to do, I'm interested to know quite how you wrangle that if it’s men and women? Clearly it’s a good thing, it levels the playing field but for you as a business for someone to say, “I want to defer my promotion,” in effect or, “I just don’t want to take that move,” or whatever how do you accommodate that as a business because clearly the work needs to be done doesn’t it a role needs to be filled?

TM: We have hopefully talent pipelines that are strong enough to have other candidates. I think again that's the upside of being a big business with really strong attractiveness to people.

PL: But you can replace people, can't you but then how do you get Person A back into the role they’ve said they want to defer?

TM: So it’s about planning and about good management of talent. Good management of talent always has two aspects it’s about the plan for the individual and it’s about the plans for the roles and who’s going to do those in future and our job is to try and marry those two things together.

PL: Organisations such as Unilever have the strength and size to communicate those vital messages about agility and flexibility effectively from the top down. But the role of line managers is very important here because they’re the ones who will be having conversations with employees expecting children. Jennifer Liston-Smith has been training managers in the run-up to April’s changes.

JL-S: The lived experience day to day for individuals is the manager and it is important to say that we don’t mean managers becoming a kind of mother hen who’s falling over themselves to make sure everyone can take all the leave they want because managers are going to find that quite challenging.

PL: Sure, yeah.

JL-S: It’s about having realistic conversations, you know, if somebody wants to take leave, talking about the timing of that and the handover and how to manage it, so equipping managers to be willing to have the conversation but also helping them know that they are allowed to debate it and discuss it.

PL: There's bound to be a degree of anxiety among some managers about how to approach the new system but there are things organisations can do to help.

JL-S: I'm always surprised and rather touched in a way by how grateful managers are for some fairly straightforward guidance, so if we’re working with an HR team to produce some checklists for managers, what to go through in a conversation pre-leave, what to go through before somebody’s return and so on, just a simple piece of guidance that says, when somebody announces that they’re expecting a child the first words that leave your lips will be remembered...

PL: Absolutely and the expression on your face.

JL-S: … and if they’re negative they’ll be repeated. Yes exactly. And just that reminder and especially if you have managers in a group together in a room just the relief of understanding that we all do struggle with that because it does test our people management skills when somebody’s going through leave and returning, we have to consider their needs, the organisation’s needs, we have to cover their role, it’s challenging and just for managers to be recognised that, that is challenging but actually here’s some pointers as to how to have that conversation. Most managers are actually quite glad in my experience, they’re not trying to get out of it they just don’t really know how to get started.

PL: One approach some organisations are now chewing over is how to evolve less linear career pathways to suit the growing agility of employees, pathways that perhaps might offer a pause button for those times when your family, your children or indeed your elderly parents, for instance, might need more of your time. Jo Swinson.

JS: We are not robots. Work is a huge part of our life if you think about the percentage of our waking hours that we spend at work, people want to be happy in the workplace and of course they will be more effective as employees if they are fairly happy in the workplace but people have other things in their lives too. Now there will be times in people’s careers where they are very happy to work much longer hours and put huge amounts of extra effort into their career. There’ll be other points where there might be other things that are going on and I think for organisations to recognise that in different ways makes perfect sense but I think we also need to challenge some of the 1950s assumptions about what the workplace is and what working hard is. There's this presenteeism culture, it’s about sending the email at 7:03 in the morning and the jacket being on the back of the chair and being the last to leave the office and yet you could have somebody else who is working perhaps flexibly, maybe working partly from home, working different hours and being much more effective at what they do, I think enlightened employers recognise that what’s important is that the job gets done.

PL: Jo’s hope is that shared parental leave will start shifting the culture which assumes mothers are the ones who should be at home looking after the children and role models are vital here. Tim Munden again.

TM: It’s interesting isn’t it there's something so human about wanting to see people who are in a situation like yours succeed. It’s absolutely vital and we’re fortunate we have some very successful, very senior people who are role models of great family life as mothers and as fathers.

PL: You know whenever I ask organisations about role models they always talk to me about senior people and I do wonder is there an issue that there aren’t enough role models in more junior roles, that the sense that the message that goes to people who work in organisations is if you’re very senior you have the clout to ask for this stuff but if you’re lower down the tree it’s probably not for you, you have to earn it?

TM: Yeah, no I'm not sure about that, I think that we talk about senior role models because we feel if someone’s got senior doing it then the chances are there are more people on the way doing the same thing. So if you’re seeing at senior levels you’re going to see it at the more junior levels as well.

PL: Yeah, you think that is the message you’ve sent?

TM: I think so, it’s certainly the message we intend. I think it is. I think people want to see that even if they don’t think they can get to the same level the person who is at that senior level is leading and living in a way that is resonant with their own values.

PL: So if employers want to do more than just comply with the new shared parental leave rules and really enter into the spirit of them what do they need to do now? Well here are some thoughts from Jennifer Liston-Smith and Jo Swinson.

JL-S: You can make sure that you use the word ‘fathers’ or ‘partners’ not just parents, because if you use the word ‘parents’ a lot of dads assume you mean mums so you can be overly inclusive if you like in your language. You can use nice pictures and illustrations, instead of just a plain policy you can have a new parent pack. I've seen a lot of HR and diversity teams make huge ground in just pulling together communications effectively, whether it’s a page on the intranet with some nice pictures and great links to useful resources or benefits or policies that the company has.

JS: The first step is for employers to get up to speed and understand what the situation is and clearly podcasts like this and the resources from organisations like the CIPD are helpful in that and of course there's plenty of guidance that's available out there, ACAS have produced some excellent guidance and the website has got plenty of information. And then also talking to staff about it, making sure that line managers feel comfortable discussing it and understand the situation and what might be happening.

PL: And if all this is feeling a bit overwhelming take a look back in history to see just how far we’ve already come on this. Jennifer Liston-Smith.

JL-S: You know people have had to get used to longer maternity leave, not long ago somebody taking a year out for maternity leave would have been regarded as preposterous and an unmanageable impact on the business but we’ve caught up with that and it happens. We probably won't see that many people take it up.

PL: It’ll be a slow burn?

JL-S: It’ll be slow, we’ll learn as we go and if you’re reasonably open about it I don’t see any problem in saying to somebody, “Fantastic that you want to do this, do you know what you’re the first in our organisation. So let’s look at this together and let’s gain your feedback on how it goes.” In some ways it’s all about better conversations isn’t it?

PL: That's it for this week but we’d like to know what plans you've already made for shared parental leave. Tweet us @CIPD with your thoughts on how to make it work and whether it really will revolutionise family-friendly working.

Now next month is our 100th episode. Since the series began hundreds of people have sat in the podcast hot seat and we’ve travelled the length and breadth of the country peeking inside organisations big and small. We’ve gone backstage at government departments, factories and supermarkets and charted the ebb and flow of an HR profession that's fast-evolving into a 21st century powerhouse. For this our 100th episode it’s your turn in the hot seat we asked you to get in touch with your thoughts, hopes and fears about your profession and get in touch you did in droves so next month listen out for a collection of interviews with you, our listeners talking about the seminal moments in your careers, the gems of advice you've never forgotten and the monumental screw-ups you wish you could forget!

That's the 100th episode of the CIPD Podcast series going live on April 4th – don’t miss it!

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