‘Paid leave is too important to be relegated to an advantage in war for talent’: agencies aim to reshape shared parental leave policies

Company policies aimed at granting parental leave to all genders are rare – but those that do exist fail to have a real impact on gender equality in the workplace, according to some. business leaders who spoke to Digiday.

In the UK, activists have called for a revision SPL (shared parental leave) system and agency leaders agree it is time to move the discourse forward regardless of legislation and government support.

“[SPL is] a wonderful thing that just doesn’t work most of the time, ”said Dan Cullen-Shute, CEO of independent agency Creature London. “When we get to real equality between what people are paid and how they are supported, it becomes obvious.”

The SPL in the UK allows two new parents to share a year of leave at a fixed government rate of around £ 152 ($ 215) per week. But it was heavily critical for all of its complex requirements, including inter-company communication between the respective HR departments of the primary caregivers. Only 4% of eligible families have accepted the offer, while many others find it financially unsustainable, according to the charity Maternity Action.

In Norway, This is an other story. Here, the majority of parents share parental leave, with both entitled to a combined 49 weeks fully paid leave, of which 15 weeks are allocated to each parent individually. Kim Ydse Krogstad, national director of the Norwegian news agency group North Alliance, participated in two 10-week SPL series alongside his wife, newspaper editor.

“The most important driver for the increased adoption of SPL in Norway is clear legislation defining a minimum share for the father. In addition, companies should cover the difference up to a full salary, ”he said.

But many believe the UK version is in desperate need of an overhaul. Creature’s Cullen-Shute wanted to take SPL after his son was born in 2015, but being the top earner meant it wasn’t viable.

The agency has since upgraded its SPL so that employees who have worked there for more than a year can receive 13 weeks of full pay before reverting to statutory status, and those with four years of service can access 26 weeks of pay. full – on par with her maternity leave. It’s a new policy, and adoption has been low, which Cullen-Shute attributes to the complexity of SPL, and the concept requiring a “name change” to make it more meaningful to employees. Employers should also publicize what is being proposed to increase adoption, he added.

This is why he advocates that all new parents receive the same leave regardless of their gender and perceived status as primary or secondary caregiver, which Creature is working on.

Such a system is already in place in companies such as the insurer Aviva, which offers six months of full pay to all parents, with 84% of new fathers making the decision. Netflix, Twitter and Facebook also offer equal parental leave, to 52, 22 and 17 weeks of paid leave respectively.

Others believe that offering a policy of equal parental leave will not be enough to undermine dominant cultural norms regarding the roles of men and women. “It doesn’t change years of waiting. There needs to be more thinking about societal change so that decisions can be made collectively between partners, rather than relying on policies, ”said Hannah Johnson, CEO of creative agency Blue State, who recently returned. 10 weeks paid maternity leave, with her. the independent husband takes over until the baby is nine months old.

That’s why it’s just as important for agencies to normalize the return of part-time parental leave without reduced seniority, argues Annabel Mackie, Managing Partner at M&C Saatchi. The agency offers 20 weeks of full-pay maternity leave, a two-week full-pay paternity package and a four-day week for the next 18 weeks at full pay, as well as a statutory SPL – including the participation rate is small compared to the paternity package, Mackie said, without providing exact figures.

“I felt this acutely when I returned from having my first child as a senior account manager,” Mackie said. “I led a large team of women in my twenties, and I wanted to show them that I could do my job part-time and flexibly. Since then, I have worked four days and three weeks, at home and in the office, and am now a Managing Partner. These women who worked under me could see it. Are there enough fathers who have done the same? “

In the United States, a growing number of agencies are seeing the value in matching maternity and paternity leave, despite the lack of nationally legislated paid parental leave.

In January, Georgia-based independent agency Fitzco introduced 12 weeks of fully paid maternity and paternity leave, after it was bought out from IPG last year. “Taking my full leave was not only important to me – I wanted to help set a precedent for Fitzco’s future parents. I was delighted afterwards to hear that it made others feel more comfortable taking their full leave, ”said David Berngartt, a senior producer at the agency.

Likewise, Geben Communication, the Ohio-based digital marketing and public relations agency, offers 10 weeks of fully paid leave for all new parents. “This helps ensure that the burden of care does not fall solely on my wife – my job has allowed me to take the time to be with my new son,” said Devin Hughes, vice president of client services. .

It’s a sentiment shared by agency founder and president Heather Whaling, who believes that federal funded legislation is “essential” to bridging the gap between companies that cannot self-fund this benefit.

“It is also important that the legislation includes both men and women. This recognizes the different forms that the family can take, while also sending an important signal that women should not be the de facto caregivers, ”Whaling said.

“Paid time off is too important to be relegated to an advantage in talent wars. It’s good for families and good for business, ”she added.


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