• Shared parental leave ‘will help inspire culture change’

  • 30 Apr 2013
  • Comments 2 comments

Economy missing out on female talent, says minister

The introduction of shared parental leave will help UK organisations embrace a change in working culture, the employment relations minister has said.

Jo Swinson argued that many working practices and job structures had not changed since the 1950s, and were based on “stereotypes stuck in past”.

Traditional views and rules around maternity leave had in part contributed to women not pursuing their careers after having children, and had led to a shortage of female representation in sectors such as engineering, she added.

“In these economic times we need to be using the talents of the whole workforce,” said Swinson. “Industry and the economy are missing out on the talents of women.”

Swinson said that she was fully behind a new shared parental leave system that will allow families to be more flexible, with the option for women to go back to work earlier and for fathers to spend more time with new-borns.

“Maternity leave defaults to mothers, but even with [current] paternity leave parents are not able to ‘mix and match’ or take the same time off,” she added. “We need to change the infrastructure and encourage ways for culture change to happen." 

Swinson was speaking ahead of proposed legislative changes in the children and families bill.

Under plans currently out to public consultation, the government intends to extend the right to request flexible working to all employees from April 2014 and introduce shared parental leave from April 2015.

The parental leave system will allow new parents to choose how they share a year’s worth of leave after the birth of their child, and provide greater parity for adoptive and surrogate parents. 

Shared parental leave would “lead to greater involvement from more fathers, which benefits children as they grow,” Swinson added.

Sharing the stage with Swinson yesterday was Liz Gardiner, a policy adviser at Working Families. She said that the charity “warmly welcomed” the reforms, but pointed out that only 1,600 new fathers had so far utilised recent rule changes which allowed them to take the last six months of their partner’s maternity leave.

But Swinson told delegates that the government estimated take-up of the new shared parental leave system would be 8 per cent.

“We will clearly encourage as many families as possible to make use of it, remove as many barriers as possible and promote the benefits,” she added. 

Swinson told People Management that the government “was working up a strong plan” to communicate shared parental leave options to new parents ahead of the 2015 roll out. 

Businesses would also be encouraged to communicate the reforms to employees and be given guidance on how to deal with the different mix of parental leave requests possible under the new system.

“Large companies can use existing networks to get information out there,” she said, adding: “Strong, pragmatic support is particularly important for SMEs.”

Meanwhile, the extension of the right to request flexible working will be the first of the two major policy changes to be introduced.

As part of a strategy to address business concerns around administration burdens and how to “reasonably” handle new requests, Acas will be producing an accompanying Code of Practice plus guidance with worked examples in time for 2014. 

Acas chief executive, Anne Sharp, said that whereas 20 years ago flexible working was seen as a concession or perk “mostly for women”, now “it was common place and does work.”

“Technology makes it easier for all of us to adapt working patterns to other demands in life,” Sharp added. “Organisations have made a step change in understanding how flexible working helps recruit, retain and motivate staff.”

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Comments (2)
  • Isn't it irrelevant if the person happens to be male or female. The issue is they are a new parent. In this modern society the government should not be deciding which parent looks after the new born child based on sex but leave this to the couple to decide based on financial costs and personal preference.

    If this results in more woman being in the workplace and not on maternity/parental leave and more men out of the workplace on paternity/parental leave, PERHAPS.. business will flourish and our economy thrive!!

  • What a load of total rubbish. Business, yet again, carries the can. Force the issue and get shot in the foot. Ineffective politiocal tinkering AGAIN!