No-one said becoming a new parent would be easy, but no-one ever said it would be this hard. Often left to the domain of sleep-deprived new mums to manage the early months, maternity leave excludes their partners from fully supporting their other half during those precious, but tiresome, early days.
Businesses are, slowly but surely, waking up to the virtues of gender-neutral leave policies, which provide expectant mothers, fathers and partners access to the same paid parental leave. In doing so, it helps encourage the shared division of parenting responsibilities and encourages better equality in the workplace. A win-win situation.
Leading the way in adland, Pablo claims it is the first agency to offer shared parental leave, with its joint managing director Hannah Penn insisting that supporting working fathers and partners is “one of the best ways businesses can meaningfully support working mothers.
“There is an outdated assumption that a mother will take on the lion's share of parenting in the early months of a child’s life, crystalised in maternity and paternity policies that make it unaffordable for a father to take off much more than two weeks.”
She explains that, inadvertently, industries have been treating a father’s presence in the early days of their child’s life as though it is a couple of weeks' holiday.
"That doesn’t feel right to us,” she insists. "We have lots of working parents at Pablo and great father role models, not least our founder Gareth Mercer, who chose to take a much longer period of time away from work to support his partner and new baby at such a crucial time – and we wanted to make sure this was available for everyone.”
Coined the 'Swedish-style' parental leave, while Pablo’s decision to launch a gender-neutral leave policy feels progressive, Sweden was the first country in the world to replace gender-specific maternity leave with parental leave back in 1970.
Nowadays, new parents in Sweden are entitled to an accumulated 480 days of paid parental leave when a child is born or adopted.
Now a growing trend, back in April last year, Swedish car manufacturer Volvo announced 24-week, gender-neutral parental leave for all of its 41,5000 global workers, which it said was inspired by its home nation’s legislation.
Imploring her fellow agencies to follow Pablo’s lead, Penn says: “We all talk a lot together in agencies about all being in it together, and it feels important to find ways to make sure that we truly are.
“Parenting decisions should be made by parents. Let’s do what we can to help parents decide what works best for them. We’d also say we hope more ideas like this surface, and we look forward to being inspired by more that we can implement for our team.”
While the pandemic undoubtedly threw a massive spanner in the works, one welcome side effect is a lot of businesses have woken up to the importance of offering their staff as much support and flexibility as they juggle the work/life balance.
Back in July, Publicis Groupe UK launched a family-friendly policy for all its employees, which saw it increase the group’s previous maternity policy benefits from 16 weeks to 26 weeks and paternity from two to four weeks at full pay.
It also introduced policies on fertility and pregnancy loss, which has been a growing trend across adland, as employers try and set the message that they know everyone’s family life is important.
Miscarriages happen in around one in four recognised pregnancies, yet the government only introduced paid parental leave for the loss of a baby after 24 weeks in April 2020.
Similarly, with the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development finding three in five of those experiencing symptoms while at work say it had a negative impact on their performance, greater awareness about the impact of menopause has been a welcome advancement.
Back in July, Dark Horses launched an open-source menopause policy, in order to teach all its employees about the condition.
Pablo’s shared parental leave policy is therefore a positive step forward in making the workplace a better place for all and Penn hopes one day, all agencies will follow suit.
“We would hope one day will be sooner than we think,” she says. “One of the best ways for us to accelerate the removal of gender inequality in the workplace is to stop the motherhood tax – the horrendous reality that for a certain phase of a woman’s career she is seen as risky or flighty because she’s likely to be in and out of work on maternity leave.
“Gender-neutral parental policies will help to reframe parenting in the eyes of business not as a female responsibility but a human one, and the more men who we can support in being actively involved in the home, the better women will be supported in their work. We hope this is just one positive way to start to change this.”