Maternity men: ad dads holding the baby

A new breed of men in the creative industries are embracing the opportunity and challenge afforded by shared and extended parental leave.

Maternity men: ad dads holding the baby

In Sweden, they are called "latte pappas" – the swathes of men frequenting coffee bars with their babies who have fast become a global visual shorthand for the possibility afforded by shared parental leave. 

In the UK, we haven’t even reached the stage of agreeing on a name for this new breed of hands-on fathers. House husband, stay-at-home dad, daddy-mummy ("D-ummy" for short) are just some of the terms being used to describe the tentative beginnings of the UK’s own parenting revolution.

Although a father dashing to do the nursery drop-off is far from the novelty it once was, while researching this feature it became apparent that men taking up the opportunity afforded by shared parental leave in the creative industries remain in the minority. Indeed, a handful of men believe themselves to be trailblazers for even taking the statutory two-week entitlement.

Men make up only 25.8% of the part-time workforce and part-time working is strongly associated with undertaking caring responsibilities at home

Shared parental leave was introduced in April 2015 so that new parents could share statutory leave and pay on the birth of a child. Twelve months later, a raft of headlines claimed that just 1% of fathers had taken this up, citing research from My Family Care and the Women’s Business Council. Although this widely quoted statistic is misleading – on the grounds that the data referred to all men rather than just men with children – there is no question that uptake has been slow.

Adrienne Burgess, joint chief executive and head of research at the Fatherhood Institute, says that only a small pool of fathers are in fact eligible to take up the much-hyped shared parent leave. She explains: "What is called shared parental leave is in fact transferred maternity leave. In Sweden, for example, fathers have an individual right to extended paternity leave." In contrast, in the UK, Burgess estimates that only 25-35% of couples would be eligible and meet the requirements of both working full-time (not in freelance or self-employed positions). 

While a growing number of companies in the industry have already put specific policies in place, including Maxus and Dentsu Aegis Network, take-up is slow. One HR director reports being met with nothing but laughter when approaching the subject with an expectant father. Another chief executive succinctly declares that "fathers are not the top of the agenda" when it comes to driving
diversity. This is an approach that undermines the fact that, for many women who wish to "lean in" at work, on both a practical and emotional level this demands that men lean in at home.

Michael Islip, UK chief executive of DigitasLBi, says that while his agency has policies in place for shared parental leave, to date only two fathers have taken it up. "They are all a step towards showing parenting is not just a woman’s job," he says. 

DigitasLBi is in the vanguard of agencies experimenting with more flexible approaches to work. Later this year, it will pilot a term-time-only contract in a client-facing account management role. However, Islip warns that agencies must recognise that the industry is at the beginning of this journey. He adds: "There is still so much to be done to tackle basic equality issues."

Data suggests that fathers don’t always lean in to parenting as much as women. According to the Fatherhood Institute’s 2016 Fairness in Families Index, British men spend 24 minutes caring for children for every hour done by women. This makes UK parents officially the worst in the developed world at sharing childcare responsibilities. This disparity could also link to the fact that few men in the UK work part-time: they make up only 25.8% of the part-time workforce and part-time working is strongly associated with undertaking caring responsibilities at home.

Maternity reprieve

Some new fathers in the creative industries remain concerned about the impact taking time out of the office could potentially have on their career prospects. George Lewis, head of art at digital agency Mirum, took two weeks of paternity leave after the birth of his daughter (now three) and six-month-old son. He considered taking extended leave but, by the time the policy came into force, his wife, a journalist at Wallpaper*, was already freelancing. He explains: "The industry is still shying away from dealing with this and the question for agencies is: how much do they value longevity and loyalty?"

Catching up

It is not surprising that this trepidation exists when attitudes among some business leaders have lagged broader shifts in society. Sir John Hegarty, co-founder of Bartle Bogle Hegarty, told Campaign last year: "There is no glass ceiling in our industry." According to Hegarty, the biggest problem is women taking career breaks to have children, then struggling to rejoin an industry that has moved on. 

Drawing parallels between sportsmen and creative people, Hegarty – perhaps not a fan of Jessica Ennis-Hill – argued: "The thing about a creative career is that, if you are not doing it every day, you are not getting better every day." 

Not all business leaders believe that creativity, intellectual development and stimulation can only occur within the confines of an agency. In fact, the next generation of creative leaders could easily argue that Hegarty’s statement underlines what slow progress the industry is making. Laurence Parkes, chief strategy officer at Rufus Leonard, who is planning to take three months of parental leave, describes the comments as "utter bullshit". He explains: "I find the idea that you can’t catch up utterly spurious. As a creative person, you don’t need to be in an office to learn." 

Pointing to the next generation of talent coming to the fore, Parkes says that employees are increasingly demanding that the relationship they have with their companies should be mutually beneficial. A shift that demands leaders to sell more than just the bottom line to their employees.

He adds: "Leaders in business need to be incredibly explicit about their values." Parkes believes this is vital to ensuring that the people who work for them have the confidence to apply for shared parental leave if they want to.

Silent regret

There are also plenty of men who wished shared parental leave had been in place when their own children were young. The irony is that, alongside the emotional costs, the bottom line of many a business has also been knocked by the generation often required to place presenteeism ahead of caring responsibilities. Pointing to the ultimate cost of "leaning out" at home, Burgess explains: "Divorce costs agencies hugely – men perform very badly when families are breaking up."

To help to address this problem, Burgess believes agencies should talk about offering flexibility and shared parental leave for men. She says: "When they talk about men, women feel they won’t be ghettoised for having children. The policies need to be laid out equally and every year you need to report on it and publicise it." Burgess also suggests that, as a live learning issue, brands should continue to collect data, consult and improve their policies. 

There is no question that this issue is growing in prominence on the business agenda. Dan Beasley, chief executive of mobile shop Puzzle, attributes this partly to the fact that archetypes of masculinity are shifting in society. He says: "There is still an element of the alpha male but we are seeing the emergence of a more rounded role model of masculinity emerging, which embraces family or quality time outside of the office." According to Beasley, this is driving a shift in culture at agencies to ensure people are happy at work. But just as you "can’t be what you can’t see", neither can you be in two places at the same time.

"There is a lot of churn [at creative workplaces] because men don’t even have the conversation. With men, it’s often a silent departure," Burgess says. She urges business leaders not to wait until their best talent leaves to act but to actively initiate the conversation. Just because fathers don’t experience the physical change of growing a baby, it doesn’t mean the experience of fatherhood is anything less than a transformation of their very being.

David Frymann - Planning partner

McCann London

"Just do it," Frymann says. "It is brilliant – one of the best experiences I have ever had." Frymann is recalling the road trip he took to France with his partner when his daughter was just two-and-a-half weeks old – a stage when, for many new parents, even leaving the house for a coffee is akin to a military operation.

"Before my daughter was born, all we heard was horror stories," he enthuses. "But with teamwork and effort, you can strike the right balance with life, you can still crack on. You just don’t have the luxury of time." It was this enthusiasm that saw Frymann and his partner head off on their trip, based on the argument that if it was going to be hard work looking after a newborn, it would be infinitely improved by the heady combination of sunshine and wine. 

Taking up the opportunity afforded by shared leave wasn’t on Frymann’s agenda initially. "I had an inkling that rules had changed and, when I approached HR, not only did they already have a policy in place but they were really excited about me taking it and incredibly flexible," he explains. 

With Frymann’s partner running her own luxury shoe brand, Fury London (where she is designer and "co-creator" alongside Frymann), embracing this flexibility was a no-brainer.

As part of McCann’s female-dominated L’Oréal team, Frymann is used to being the exception rather than the rule. "It is very hard to comment on what barriers others have faced when I have received so much support," he admits. 

Frymann says the uptake of shared parental leave remains slow largely because advertising is an industry that "likes to stay as young as possible". It’s a trend that has historically made it difficult for many in the sector to balance the demands of work and parenthood – or even that of work and life more generally.

"It is baby steps for the industry," Frymann says. "Step one is bringing out the policy; the second step is for others in the industry to see new role models. Then, one day, we will get to a Nordic-style set-up where men and women will take equal leave."

Those looking for role models need look no further than Frymann for evidence that hands-on parenting can be accompanied by professional success and creative endeavour. As he puts it: "There is absolutely the opportunity to carve out the lifestyle you want within the workplace. The key is how you differentiate yourself." 

Ben Van der Gucht - Board account director 

Rainey Kelly Campbell Roalfe/Y&R

"Day one and he bled on my watch," Van der Gucht confesses as he explains how he tried, and failed, to cut his son’s fingernails while feeding him. He describes the first hour of his shared leave as "terrifying".

When their son Zac was four months old, Van der Gucht’s wife returned to work as a City trader. He stayed at home for the following two months.
"It was winter and it was freezing cold. He was very immobile and was pretty much attached to me at all times," Van der Gucht recalls. "Actually, there was lots of time when it was very monotonous."

Van der Gucht believes that playing an equal role as his partner in terms of support has brought them closer together. "It can be disempowering as a dad if you don’t know what to do," he says, pointing to the little details that are often easily missed when you are not the primary carer.

But a broader shift is afoot in the industry, he thinks. Van der Gucht explains: "It is still very nascent but I like to think the guys in my team see there is more than one way of progressing, and getting in and leaving at a reasonable time is not to be discouraged." 

In fact, citing the support he received from both colleagues and management at Rainey Kelly Campbell Roalfe/Y&R, Van der Gucht says that far from being discouraged by older generations, they were jealous that the law had changed to allow fathers to take time off. "Yes, there are financial and practical benefits [to shared parental leave], but the fact is you will never get this time back," he says. For Van der Gucht, the full support of his company was the last push he needed to take up shared parental leave.

Like many new fathers, Van der Gucht credits his experience of having a child with softening his sharp edges. "Prior to having children, I was much more selfish in my view of life," he says. "But since having Zac, my attitude to success has shifted and I have a much more healthy approach to work/life balance." It is a shift he believes is rippling across the industry.

"In advertising, there has always been a perception that if you are out the door at 6pm, then you are not hard-working. But I think that is fundamentally shifting. Many of my colleagues do a four-day week," he adds. 

Jamie Inman Head of planning 


"I was aware that I was a tourist," Inman says as he looks back on his two stints of paternity leave. While the world has moved on from an era in which men in baby classes and soft-play centres were treated as a foreign species, there were times when he felt he didn’t quite fit in. But it is clear he takes pride in being a pioneer.

"For every woman returning to the workplace after maternity leave, anything we are not doing in the agency to support men is having a negative impact on women," Inman declares. 

He is at pains to underline that, while he has received plaudits for being an active dad, he gets "praised for doing stuff that mums are doing anyway". He states: "The premise remains that it is the job of women to raise families when in fact it is the job of families."

As his wife prepares to return to work following her maternity leave, he is aware that mothers don’t benefit from the same halo effect that is afforded to men after having children.

Inman has two daughters aged two-and-a-half and ten months. He took one month off when his first child was born and ten weeks off with his second. "It gave me the basic confidence to be able to pack a bag and do things on the go," he says. Juggling the needs of two young children, Inman adds, there wasn’t a day when he wasn’t aware of how lucky he was to simply be there.

As a relatively small company (it has 84 members of staff), BMB did not have a parental leave policy in place, but Inman credits the culture of the agency (supportive and progressive) and the input of BMB’s financial director for getting his plan together. There is no doubt that navigating the practical details, such as at what point the company is being reimbursed by the government, can be challenging for smaller organisations.

Inman explains: "Classically, our industry is enormously reactionary. In our heads, we are pioneers but, in reality, making shared parental leave a reality involves investment. When we are competing with Google, which takes these things seriously, we can’t stand still."

He urges other men in the industry not to be afraid to be the first in their organisations to take
up shared parental leave. Inman says: "If you are certain of your value and you have a strong view of how you want to spend your time, agencies will adjust to that. You have to stand up for what it is you want."