Why bosses should prepare for culture change on work-family balance

11 September 2014 -


Some 44% of mothers would consider sharing parental leave with their partners during the first year of a new baby’s life, survey shows

Jermaine Haughton

British firms must brace themselves for a culture change in how parents balance family and their professional lives, as almost half of working mothers say they would consider sharing maternity leave with their partners. According to an annual survey conducted by WorkingMums.co.uk, 44% of 2,390 respondents said they would be interested in sharing their time spent away from the workplace to care for newborns – a 3% rise on last year.

That finding follows the government’s recent announcement of a new system of shared parental leave – a change that will force bosses to become more familiar with employees taking multiple periods of time off as parents of new children. Under the arrangements, parents will be entitled to split 12 months of absence between them to suit their needs. Fathers are currently entitled to just two weeks of paternity leave – but the Liberal Democrats said in a recent pledge that they want to dedicate an extra four weeks exclusively to fathers, taking their statutory leave time to six weeks.

Women’s willingness to share maternity leave is partly explained by the significant number of mothers who are the main breadwinners in their families. More than 17% of women who were living with partners said that their salaries were higher, and only in a small number of cases was that because their partners were made redundant, or had to reduce their hours.

Furthermore, the McDonald’s-sponsored research suggests that, despite the rise in female breadwinners, the proportion of women who split childcare and housework equally with their partners is just 21%: down from 27% last year. Some 17% said that their partners work flexibly, while for 4% partners work on a part-time basis.

Many women noted how economic factors had affected how long they took for maternity leave, with 46% forced to return to work early due to company struggles or cost-of-living issues. Some 10% took just one to three months’ maternity leave. The majority, however, took between seven months and the full entitlement of 12. Interestingly, while 70% said they went back to work because they needed the money, 60% said they would work even if money was not an issue.

WorkingMums.co.uk founder Gillian Nissim said: “Our annual survey always throws up a wealth of information on the way women are working, or would like to work, and what hurdles many face when attempting to reach their potential. It is interesting to note the appetite for shared parenting, in the light of expectations that initial take-up will not be significant. This perhaps reflects a growing awareness among couples of the link between equality in the workplace and at home. It is vital that policy supports parents in having greater choice over how they balance work and family life.”

More than half (56%) of women said they earn less, pro-rata, than they did before having children. Meanwhile, 49% said that employers discriminate more against women in the current climate. As a result of this perceived sexism in the workplace, 60% of the women surveyed think they have to work harder than men because of unconscious bias.

For more on these issues, check out the details on CMI's forthcoming seminar Equality, Diversity & Inclusion: Making the Business Case, to be hosted in partnership with the Institute of Engineering and Technology Women’s Network.

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