McLean Partnership

To achieve real equality in the workplace, does parenting need to be shared equally?

January 23, 2020

I work in Financial Services recruitment, specifically Equities both sell and buy side. I have witnessed a lot of change in this industry over the past 14 years of my career, however my thoughts below go beyond Financial Services and into the work-place more generally.

Having had four maternity leaves in six years, one could assume my return to work this time around would be well versed and smooth. Not so. My old friend, guilt, looms large and loud. I remain the primary contact for any “child is sick” calls and ever present is my worry over my performance and perceived commitment. Fortunately, I have a supportive Boss who navigates the mine-field well. He’s adapted my role to part-time with fairly flexible hours. Output rather than time spent is very much the focus and my targets have been altered to challenge realistically. He has enabled me to be a very present member of our team.

In October 2019, The Office for National Statistics (ONS) published data on families and the labour market. Two stats caught my attention – firstly, that in April to June 2019, 3 in 4 mothers with dependent children (75.1%) were in work in the UK. This compared with 92.6% of fathers with dependent children.  Secondly (and shockingly!), almost 3 in 10 mothers (28.5%) with a child aged 14 years and under said they had reduced their working hours because of childcare reasons. This compared with 1 in 20 fathers (4.8%).

 

If the parenting responsibility between men and women were levelled at home, would we see more women in the workplace?

I have a theory that a lot of our approach to mothers in the work-place goes back to the early days of starting your family. Shared parental leave remains under-considered and under-used. Would my return to work and the emotions involved have been smoother, had we an option for my husband to actively share in the parenting responsibility of those early months?

In 2018, Aviva revealed a scheme offering equal parental leave to male and female employees – up to one year in the UK, including six months at full pay, which has had strong take-up since. In April 2019, Diageo UK announced a new policy to offer men and women an equal 52 weeks parental leave with the first 26-weeks fully-paid, retaining benefits and bonuses regardless of gender, sexual orientation or whether they become parents biologically, via surrogacy or adoption. This shared approach to parental leave might be the key to providing a healthy foundation on which to potentially build a shared approach to parenting duties as a whole.

 

Initiation of change within Financial Services

European trading hours are renowned for being un-child friendly. I feel the current LSE Consultation on market structure and trading hours is a step in the right direction to seeing whether financial services could be altered more positively. But what if, as an addition to this, we see the men of Gen Z taking up their shared parental leave. What if we see the men of Gen Z being an equal on the “child is sick” call. What if we continue to positively empower men to share the parenting more evenly? Would this in turn enable and empower more women within a work setting?

I recognise this isn’t always practical. As an industry, working practices within Financial services have made it hard to break down the male workforce bias. The challenge I believe we face is amending the thought process of how the day to day operates rather than solely focusing on the hiring of women (we are working on some exciting projects involving  senior female hires within equity research at the moment though!).  In an industry which places importance on visibility, availability, spontaneity and earnings, it is natural that there may be some tension in making a change to encourage and support men in shouldering the parental weight. But if we can incentivise this and make it acceptable within a platform, then wouldn’t that be exciting?

 

Maybe by baby number five we’ll get there?!