Date: 02/08/16 Duration: 00:17:50

In April 2015 the legislation changed to allow expectant mothers to share their maternity leave with their partner. Take up so far, however, has been remarkably and perhaps predictably, low with just 1% of men taking up the opportunity. Research suggests that financial affordability, lack of awareness, and unwillingness from women to share their maternity leave may be behind this low take-up.

In this episode we chat with mum-to-be Ksenia Zheltoukhova, research advisor at CIPD, and her partnerRyan McKelvey about their decision to take advantage of shared leave and what challenges and opportunities it has presented. We also chat with Fiona Martin, Pay and benefits administrator at CIPD, to find out how it works in practice and how HR can support and encourage couples considering shared parental leave.

We’ll be catching up with Ksenia and Ryan throughout the year to see how their experience of shared leave is unfolding.

Would you consider taking shared parental leave? Join in the discussion on Twitter @CIPD using the hashtag #cipdpodcasts.

View the full podcast transcript

CIPD Podcast

Philippa Lamb: 18 months ago we featured the then Under Secretary of State for Employment Relations Jo Swinson in a podcast about the legislation she was championing on shared parental leave. Now previous attempts to encourage and enable fathers to play a bigger role in the care of their newborns had had very limited success so we asked her about the new system and how she saw the appetite amongst parents to share 52 weeks of leave after the birth of a new baby.

Jo Swinson: I’m a fairly new Mum and so I've recently gone through the whole experience of having a baby and my experience of doing that has been that guys these days do want to be much more involved in that parenting than perhaps a generation ago.

PL: The government predicted a solid take-up amongst British parents.

JS: Well the low end of our expectations would be a bit more than additional paternity leave. So the lowest end of the 2%. And initially we think 8% is 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: In the event however take-up hasn’t reached even their lowest estimate of 2%. In fact just 1% of fathers have taken any parental leave at all. Right now Ksenia Zheltoukhova and Ryan McKelvey are on the eve of parenthood for the first time. And Ryan is one of that one in 100 fathers planning to share a year of leave from work to look after their baby. Ksenia is a research adviser here at the CIPD, Ryan works in the transport sector. So Ksenia, Ryan thanks for coming and talking to us. When is the baby due?

Ryan McKelvey: It’s due on August 14th.

PL: Do you know what sex it’s going to be?

Ksenia Zheltoukhova: Yeah we’re expecting a girl, quite excited about that. We’ve done the class which was really helpful, a few weeks left still, feeling excited overall, yeah confident.

RM: My brother’s got three little girls so I'm sort of used to it.

PL: You know what to expect?

RM: Yeah, yeah it’s quite exciting I'm really looking forward to it.

KZ: Yet you have never changed a diaper have you?

RM: Not yet but I’ll be okay.

PL: Have you two been together a long time?

RM: About three years.

PL: Okay how did you meet?

RM: We just met down by Waterloo in a bar down there.

KZ: I knew that he was the one on our second date. We knew we were meant for each other.

PL: And you're both working full-time now?

RM: Yes.

PL: So just tell us a bit about your jobs before we go on to talking about the two of you individually.

KZ: I work as a researcher at the CIPD. What I do is come up with ideas for research projects and then I go about delivering them. So I would go and interview people, conduct surveys and then write about the findings of that research.

RM: I work as a project manager, generally in the transport industry, so generally looking at building new stations, new railways, nine to five but we do quite a lot of work at night and weekends.

PL: Which one of you suggested sharing parental leave in the first place?

KZ: I think it was Ryan actually.

RM: I always thought it was a viable option. It was something that I felt I wanted to do and I thought it would be a good opportunity to spend time with a new child, which two or three years ago you wouldn’t have got that opportunity.

KZ: I'm not sure we quite called it shared parental leave but we did talk about the intentions to share some responsibilities.

PL: It’s interesting you say that because so few men, I mean it’s less than 1% of fathers are taking this up at the moment, what was it that appealed about it for you?

RM: I think the opportunity’s there while the child’s young, if you can build that bond with them and spend time with them and it’s not leaving it to one parent to do, it’s a joint effort.

PL: So what appealed to you about that because a lot of women don’t like the idea of sharing?

KZ: I think it’s work, I quite enjoy working so obviously the maximum we could take was 12 months but 12 months for one person seems quite a bit. I've recently got a new job and new responsibilities at work which means I don’t really want to take so much time out, I want to come back and get into it. Six months each seems like, you know, it’s long enough but equally it wouldn’t be so disruptive to your career.

RM: There is quite a lot of factors you need to take into account but finance is a big one. Luckily we’re on similar amounts of money so we didn’t feel we would miss out too much. And also we’ve been planning this for a while. So we’ve tried to save money back for when we do go down to one wage to make sure that it’s something that was achievable.

PL: Will your employer give you enhanced pay while you take time off?

RM: Yes luckily I get enhanced pay also.

PL: If they had said they wouldn’t do that would that have been a barrier for you?

RM: We sat down with and Excel Spreadsheet and went through all the figures to make sure it was something that was affordable to us and that it wouldn’t affect our lifestyle in a way where we were scared to go to the cinema or go for a meal out. The statutory pay is at just under £140 at the moment.

PL: A week yeah.

RM: A week and it was something that we definitely budgeted in. I think if we didn’t have enhanced pay that would make it more difficult.

KZ: I suppose when you think about finances you can't just think about the salary and the loss of the salary that you have as a result of the leave, there are other factors that will impact on your finances: for instance if I were to take 12 months out and that would have impacted on my career that probably down the line would have impacted the financial situation as well. So I suppose we were thinking about it holistically yes.

PL: So tell me how you’re planning to divide up the leave?

RM: So in total you get 50 weeks. So me and Ksenia are planning on doing a half/half split.

KZ: So I’ll start my leave just two weeks before the baby is born and I will go on until February. So that's about six months in total. Ryan starts his leave at the end December and goes on until July. So that means that the baby has about 12 months in total, perhaps 11½. But it also means that we have six weeks together which is lovely.

RM: Yeah as a project manager we have to do handovers well. So we’re planning on going abroad…

PL: So the shared data?

RM: Yeah. So if I didn’t do a good handover I’d get highly embarrassed. So we’re going to spend six weeks abroad, either Spain or somewhere where we can just go over nice and relaxed as a new family, all together and just hand over quite naturally and relaxed so that I don’t take over and one day I'm like, oh!

PL: That sounds like a great idea. So she's going to take the first chunk and then you’re going to have this lovely family handover and then it’s you.

RM: Yeah.

PL: You've got this handover period which I think sounds like a very smart idea because having met both of you it sounds like you might have quite different ideas about how you’re going to do this caring, so you will have started off and then you'll be obviously handing over to Ryan so do you see any issues around that change of how things are done between the two of you?

KZ: Definitely I think in the four months that I will spend alone with the baby I will probably develop my own ways of doing things and one thing we've been repeatedly told in preparation for the baby in the class that you have to really step back and let the other person do it their way. So that will be a challenge for me. But at the same time I think it’s fantastic that Ryan actually has this opportunity to develop his own ways with the baby because I don’t always want to be the bad cop, I don’t always want to be the one with all the rules.

RM: And when I do take over hopefully Ksenia will be assured that I'm fully competent to do the job.

PL: Yeah that does bring me to the question of experience and I wouldn’t want you to think this is a gender-based question but do you have any experience with babies?

RM: None at all. I'm not much of a theory guy I'm more of a practical guy so I think once the baby arrives and I'm getting involved I think that will show my strengths.

PL: Yeah you’re feeling quite confident about it?

RM: Very confident.

PL: Based on what?

RM: I just think it’s a child, it’s the same pattern over and over, you know, you might need a day to understand that pattern but once you learn that pattern it should hopefully all go swimmingly.

KZ: I think the fact that we have started discussing parenting styles to do with the baby; I come from Russia so we have quite strict rules and guidelines about how a child should be parented. The parent has to be the authority and you are best placed to make the best choice for your child. I think Ryan is much more democratic than I am. Would you agree?

RM: Yeah I think I'm from more of a background where I was kind of told, you know, do your best and that's all you can do. Ksenia sees more you have to be the best. So I think it’ll be interesting to see how hopefully there'll be a balance in the middle.

PL: So tell me a little bit about the process of arranging the leave with your employer how did that go?

KZ: It was very straightforward. So the first thing I did I spoke to my line manager. In a way I think, I don't know if it was good news for him because I think the expectation was that I would take 12 months and when I said, “Oh I'm only taking six months because we are sharing parental leave,” that was welcome.

PL: He was pleased.

KZ: He was very pleased and the next step was to make the arrangements with HR and so that involved filling the forms and going through the details of how much leave I had available and then passing those details on to Ryan’s employer so it can be coordinated.

Fiona Martin: Hi I'm Fiona Martin.

PL: Here’s the colleague who managed Ksenia’s shared leave request.

FM: And I'm the payroll and benefits administrator at the CIPD. We had a couple of meetings. She kind of read up about it and she's like on the ball with everything.

PL: So they arrived pretty fully formed didn’t they, Ksenia and Ryan.

FM: Yes.

PL: They'd worked out what they wanted to do already. I imagine you might encounter some employees walking in and thinking, ‘We’re quite liking the idea but we’re not sure how it is,’ do you think you might have those enabling conversations where you’re saying, “Well this is how it could work, where you might think about X or a menu of options,” because it’s not the clearest is it?

FM: No. It’s like a minefield and I think that's also what puts people off.

PL: If someone walks into your office and says, “I'm thinking about doing this,” what are you immediately thinking about?

FM: How we can support them to work with their line manager, then it would be to think do we need to get cover? Are they going to be off for a long period of time or are they going to be off sporadically?

PL: What about preparing for their return in terms of keeping in touch days, that sort of thing? Is there a system or are you developing a system? It’s all very new, are you developing ways of doing that?

FM: So keeping in touch days for maternity you get ten days. For shared parental leave you get 20 days. They can use all 20: they can use none if they want. We leave it up to the manager and the employee to work out between the two of them.

PL: And obviously as you say we’ve had the rules for something over a year now, you've had two employees step up and say they'd like it, do you think you will see more? Do you think it will be popular?

FM: I'm not…

PL: It’s very slow burn at the moment isn’t it?

FM: It’s a very slow burner.

PL: What do you think is holding them back?

FM: I think it’s financial reasons, possibly because they haven’t seen any other men do it so they think, I can't do it it’s more of a woman’s job to take the leave.

PL: Even with younger employees you think that's still the feeling?

FM: I think so.

PL: But this isn’t the case for Ryan.

RM: I can understand why people would be worried. I'm personally not. I do feel in some instances I might miss out on some key opportunities or perhaps some key moments in the project that I've got. As I said a key thing for me is that my employers are really supportive of that and I feel you've got enough time to actually put plans in place to manage that and when I go off I’ll be able to hand over my jobs to someone else and I’ll be able to pick them back up when I come back.

PL: What about longer term, the way you’re perceived by your employer, do you think it’s going to put a dent in your promotion prospects, in your career progression?

RM: I personally don’t. I think my employers are 100% behind me. I don’t feel it would prevent me moving forward in my progression as a project manager.

PL: So you don’t think it’s going to make you look uncommitted?

RM: I think there is that fear but I think a lot of it is self-doubt. If you’re good at your job and you’re competent and you have a six month break or a three month break, whatever you feel I think it won't make any difference, you just need to be able to have the open conversations with your manager and that's what I did. I had quite a lot of informal discussions before I started the process.

PL: Now tell me how your colleagues responded to the idea.

KZ: I’d say the most common reaction was people wanting to find out about it and how it works and many people said, “I wish this was an option when I was having children.” When we were talking about shared parental leave I was quite interested in how Ryan’s managers and colleagues would react to it. He works in a slightly different organisation, there are a lot of men working there so it’s probably not something that they’ve considered or it’s not something that men typically did even a year ago.

PL: What do your colleagues say?

RM: Apart from saying how tired I’ll be and how much work it will be to me and that I’ll wish I was back in work getting a rest, they're all really supportive actually and a lot of the men in my organisation, because I work in quite a male-dominated industry, all say, “I wish I could do this.”

PL: And why aren’t they doing it?

RM: A lot of them talk about finances.

PL: And obviously you'll have talked to a lot of people about this now, thinking about your age group, you know, youngish professional people do you think more of your age group will start to do this as the norm in the way that they do in Scandinavia where we've got 25% fathers doing this?

RM: I think as more people take advantage of it, it will become more commonplace.

PL: More acceptable?

RM: Yeah the problem is you've got to start the ball rolling and once it does start rolling people will see it’s not going to have this negative effect everyone thinks, you can manage the situation it just needs to have a snowball effect on there.

PL: It’s interesting that you say it won't have a negative effect but of course it has had a negative effect for a lot of women so…

RM: And that's actually a really good point and that is something that me and Ksenia have discussed. It’s unfair for me to expect Ksenia to stop her career whilst at the same time it would be unfair of her to say to me, “I'm going to have two weeks you have the rest of it,” and stifle my career. I think six months is a really manageable chunk. I think that what that allows you to do is kind of step out of your work, your project, but also step in. And you get quite a lot of keeping in touch days and that's something that I think is really important.

KZ: I don’t get the impression from my employer that this is going to impact on my career plans. For me six months is just the right time to take out but if I were to take out 12 months I might have been concerned.

PL: I mean obviously you may have more children as time goes on, two, three, four, who knows, are you imagining at this early stage in the game that you would do the same thing again do you think?

KZ: I think so. At the moment we probably see more benefits of shared parental leave than we see negative sides of it. I can't see any negative sides of it actually and for me it’s brilliant. So at this moment yes we would do it again.

PL: When I first talked to Ksenia about this idea that you might be sharing the leave, looking after the baby, she said to me you were thinking you might start a business during your chunk of parental caring time does that seem like something that would be feasible do you think?

RM: I think spending time with a child you can view it as you look after the child and that's your job or you can also view it as other potential opportunities and as I said I'm not planning on sitting in the house all day changing nappies and feeding a child, I'm planning on getting out there. I plan to go to the gym, possibly start considering business plans, writing a book, who knows. I think the opportunities are there but you've got to make it work for you.

KZ: Not only that he wants me to write a book as well in my time with the baby.

PL: So a two book family inside a year.

KZ: That's right. I think there will be some adjustment of expectations.

PL: We’re definitely going to want you to come back and talk to us as you go along so that we can hear how you’re getting on with the book.

RM: Yeah I’ll be interested to see what I say.

PL: Are you happy to come and chat to us as time progresses and tell us what’s happening?

RM: Yeah absolutely. It’ll be nice for me to look back on this to see what I said at the beginning, the middle, and then the end. At the end I might just be like, thank God! That'll be the end of it.

KZ: That would be great. I think it would be really nice for us to listen back to what we expected with experience and how it actually pans out.

PL: It’s a learning experience isn’t it?

RM: Absolutely.

PL: Congratulations on doing it. I think it’s excellent.

RM: Thanks a lot.

PL: Ksenia and Ryan road-testing the shared leave legislation for the first time. And as you heard they generously agreed to keep in touch with the podcast team after their baby is born and talk us through the lesson they learn as they get to grips with a very different way of living, working and managing both their careers. And we’re already fascinated.

Will Ksenia find she doesn’t want to share the leave after all? Will Ryan write his book and start a business during his daughter’s naps? How will stepping in and out of their jobs work for both of them? Stand by for updates over the next year.

Next month learning and development. Research tells us that 65% of today’s schoolchildren will do jobs that have yet to be created. So how on earth can HR and L&D manage a talent pipeline for roles that don’t even exist yet. Join me then.

Date: 22/12/2016 | Duration: 00:07:49

We catch up with Ksenia and baby Maya to see how they’re enjoying the first few months of Ksenia and Ryan’s shared parental leave plan. We find out if any of their predictions have come to pass and how they’re preparing for the second portion of shared leave when Ksenia returns to work.

View the full podcast transcript

CIPD Podcast

Philippa Lamb: So Ksenia, we haven't seen you for a few months but now there's Maya. 

Ksenia Zheltoukhova: There's two, yeah she's really good

PL: She's just a beautiful baby. So how was it all?

KZ:It's, it's really, really interesting. It's nothing what you imagine when you just think you're going to have a child. Even though she's so small and it's all about feeding and changing and putting to sleep you still think there are decisions you're making now that will impact her long-term. So you kind of start taking things really seriously.

PL: And you've had a bit of a rough ride, she was in hospital for a bit.

KZ: Yeah so actually the first three weeks after birth were probably the most brilliant. Ryan was in the house - he was on paternity leave. Maya was a really good sleeper from birth. Amazing. So the first three weeks were fantastic. And then I started being on my own in the house. Then also we found out she had to have a surgery so we stayed in the hospital for about a month.

PL: Right

KZ: But we're out of the hospital for about a month now so it's been much better since.

PL: So Maya is fifteen weeks now. How is the schedule, as much as there ever is a schedule with a new baby?

KZ: Well if you know me you would know routine is everything, so Maya's been on a schedule from day one pretty much. We get up about seven or seven thirty which is very early for me. I'm not an early riser but she seems to be one. We play for a bit and then she has her food, we have a playtime. I try to speak Russian to her so this is the time I will show her the different animals in Russian and I'll try to basically speak as much Russian as I can. Then she has her nap. She only naps for forty-five minutes so quite, uh – that's the morning

PL: Brief!

KZ: Brief, yeah. Really, but when she's asleep she's really good. And then, yeah, and then another feed. We'll play some more and then we'll do our big walk and sleep in the lunchtime. Then we have another feed, another play, another nap if she's up for it. Five to seven, that's the time we spend together, the three of us. And seven o'clock is bedtime.

PL: And how are you finding it? Is it harder work than you imagined? 

KZ: Ah yes! It's nothing compared to what I do at work. I hate to say it but I'm not using my brain as much.

PL: Sure.

KZ: Apart from calculating the feed amounts. I think I prefer work. And also it's a very, very, very different life. Where you're just at home and you still have to maintain the whole kind of laundry and cooking and housework. And also you have a baby who is very unpredictable.

PL: And the whole keeping across your professional area and thinking about how it's going to be when you go back – are you still thinking about that or is it too early? 

KZ: I think I'm starting to think about it now because I'm coming back in February and I'm excited about it so I start to think about what's going to happen at work when I return. But whether I have actually proactively done anything like, have I read a book whilst I was on maternity leave? No. 

PL: So you're at home, Ryan's at work. How's he doing? 

KZ: I think he's becoming, yeah, he's beginning to realise it's not what he imagined when he agreed to go on shared parental leave. So far, um, he's put her to sleep once in three months.

PL: Okay

KZ: So I think he's a bit worried how he's going to do it exactly when he's in the house. 

PL: Because he's taking over from you in February?

KZ: That's right, he's off from Christmas but we will have six weeks together.

PL: So I remember, I think I remember Ryan being very bullish about how it was all going to be smooth and there would be no difficulty in keep up with professional matters and stuff, and you're discovering it's a different thing?

KZ: Yeah, so, uh, so the first three weeks we were both in the house and we took it really easy. Ryan was looking after me, I was looking after Maya. We went for walks, got out of the house. And when he was going back to work he got me a mini flip chart so I could work on my book. Let's just say we're using that flip chart to track Maya's feeding. 

PL: The book, yes. You were meant to be writing a book weren't you, Ksenia? 

KZ: It's just still all in my head.

PL: Suffice to say that's not happening right now?

KZ: No.

PL: And is Ryan still thinking that he - wasn’t he supposed to be writing a book in his time?

KZ: Yes, a book and I think a few businesses as well.

PL: Starting a business, yes. So is he adjusting his expectations or has he not got to that stage yet?

KZ: I think he's still expecting himself to do that. So he still thinks he will be able to, but we will see. I think his hope is that Maya will be older by the time he is on leave with her so he will have more time to do work but... I don't know. I think the fact that she's older means that she has more playtime and you really have to interact with her. She's really curious, she wants to, you know, do things and play with toys. So it's not like you can just sit and work on the book while she is quietly playing in the corner. She demands, she demands attention and she demands to be played with.

PL: So how are you feeling about him taking over and you going back to work?

KZ: Love it. I think that's the best thing that we've done. I think we've been talking about it. I think brilliant that he will have time with Maya. I think it's brilliant that I will be able to get back to work if I'm honest. The only thing we were thinking and perhaps because we had a difficult time in terms of staying in the hospital -

PL: Yeah

KZ: We kind of wish that we did the shared leave at the same time. So we took six months each but at the same time

PL: Really, that's interesting

KZ: Yeah, so we could both be at home with Maya. I think we found the first few months to be particularly difficult and so if there were two pairs of hands it might have been easier. But I suppose that's more for us, but for her it's probably more beneficial that we take longer period of time and take it in turns

PL: Yeah. So if you did this again, dare I mention the thought of a second child so early, might you do that, do you think? Take the time simultaneously?

KZ: I think so because those first three weeks like I said, I keep going back to them because they were absolutely amazing. 

PL: When you were both home?

KZ: That's right, and like I said it was fantastic that Ryan could just take care of meals and make sure that I'm hydrated and you know have slept at least some time. And I was concentrating on Maya.

PL: So now tell me, getting down to nuts and bolts, how's it been on the kind of budget front? Because obviously things have changed radically for you two while you take this shared parental leave. How's that been? Has it had an impact? Are you noticing the difference?

KZ: Yes, just in terms of the baby costs, that's an added cost to us every month. I've been lucky so far because I've been on maternity pay from the CIPD for four months, nearly four months, so it's only now kicking in that we will be on reduced pay, so we've already had to dip into savings just, you know, just to maintain the costs. I know there are tough months to come. 

PL: I mean this does raise the thorny issue of course of different parenting styles doesn't it? Because it's great that fathers get involved looking after the children but it has been formerly a kind of female domain and the idea of handing over control in that way again is quite a challenge isn't it?

KZ: I think I'm making progress actually on that front, because I think it's through sheer tiredness you have to let go. So yeah at first you kind of think 'oh yeah, I'm better doing feeding, I'm better doing this, I'll do it'. But then you're so tired you kind of think, yeah please take over. So yeah, I think it is good.

I think you're right, there are different parenting styles but I find it's actually working out quite well. Ryan's much better at leaving her to play on her own for example and I think it's really important that she learns to just play on her own. While I always feel like I have to read her a book or, you know, explain what different toys are. So I think he's giving her a different experience, I suppose.

PL: So early days, but generally? You're glad you've taken this decision to do the shared leave?

KZ: Absolutely. I think it is really good. Both for Maya, like I said, to experience both parents but also for us to be able to keep up our careers and for me to get back to work. 

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Shared parental leave

Understand how shared parental leave works, from the amount of leave parents can take to the eligibility criteria involved

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