55% of women don’t want to share their maternity leave with their partners – why not?

Round about last year at this time, I was pulling together the results of our survey to dads on how they felt about the forthcoming Shared Parental Leave rights. 

Our research involved asking working dads nation-wide, how they felt about taking time off from work to share leave with their partners.  What I didn’t consider at the time, however, is how mothers feel about sharing their leave and going back to work early.  In fact, last week’s surveys revealed that 55% of women said they didn’t want to share their leave with their partners.

Reading the article in the Telegraph last week, My husband wanted shared parental leave – but I couldn’t do it – really made me sit up and think.  In April of last year, I absolutely hadn’t considered that one of the reasons why men wouldn’t take advantage of the leave was because partners wouldn’t want to share it.

The fact that it was reported last week that only 1% of families have taken SPL over the last year, is clearly disappointing.  However, I still feel positive – so many of the working parents I meet are considering taking SPL in the future so I expect that next year at this time, there will have been a healthy increase in take-up.  What we mustn’t forget is that many working parents are working much more flexibly on return from leave – whether that be formally or informally – and sharing the pick-up/drop-off responsibilities.

Our survey last year revealed that a surprising 77% of respondents had already made changes to their working lives since becoming fathers, in order to spend more time with their children.  One third of this group have made formal changes to their working arrangements.  Examples of flexibility already taken ranged from giving up work altogether to be a stay-at-home dad, to taking Additional Paternity Leave (before this was replaced by Shared Parental Leave) and working 4.5 day weeks and 9-day fortnights.

Last year, 57% of our respondents said they would consider taking Shared Parental Leave, as more dads push for more time with their families:  ‘Childhood is a once in a lifetime experience for a dad and should not be missed if at all possible.’

Last year’s top 3 reasons why dads wouldn’t consider sharing leave with their partners were as follows:

  1. 40% stated financial reasons as to why they weren’t considering SPL
  2. Lack of senior manager support; 38% of respondents reported that they did not feel their managers supported them as they became a father in the workplace. This result is very much in line with the similar lack of managerial support felt by working mums.  Comments reflected the fact it’s still culturally more acceptable for women to work flexibly: ‘all the leave options are targeted at women.’
  3. 4% specifically highlighted the negative impact it could have on their career. One respondent pointed out that ‘it will impact on your ability to work/perform, and it’s a matter of time before the glass ceiling appears, as for working mums.

This year’s top 3 reasons why only 1% of families have actually taken SPL are reported to be:

  1. Financial (as above)
  2. Lack of awareness of options
  3. Unwillingness of mothers wanting to share their leave

So now that point 3 has hit our agendas, this is something worth exploring further.  I guess that last year, we had presumed that most women would be pleased that there is now the option of her partner taking off a few weeks or months during her maternity leave; that having her partner at home would be helpful and supportive and give her the chance to settle back to work.  On the other hand, many women see their maternity leave as a precious and a rare opportunity to spend family-time at home, out of the rat-race.

What do you see as the pros and cons of Shared Parental Leave?

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