Shared parental leave failing workers: study

The gender pay gap and low employer support for shared parental leave (SPL) are key reasons why almost half of UK employees struggle to return to work as they would like after maternity leave, suggests new research.

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The survey of 1,000 male and female full- and part-time workers for Office Genie into SPL take-up finds 44% experienced difficulties, either first- or second-hand, in returning to work after a pregnancy.For 47%, the key reason for not opting for SPL is the gender pay gap. This sits at 9.4% for full-time employees and 18.1% for all workers.

Lack of support for SPL

The desk-finding search engine for SMEs and freelance workers further suggests that for 30%, their employer’s anti-SPL sentiment played a role.One in five believed a lack of awareness (21%) and a tradition of mothers taking maternity leave (26%) also undermined wider SPL take up.

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Gender pay gaps and maternity leave

The research highlights the vicious cycle around low SPL take-up and therefore the continuing gender pay gap. While the gap has closed for some women, research shows that the gender pay gap rises with higher levels of education.Sarah Sutton, head of people development at Genie Ventures, a digital marketing and publishing company, comments: “The pay gap can be a major issue: if you are the highest earner in the family, you are far less likely to take a significant amount of time off work at Statutory Shared Parental Pay rates of £140.98 a week. However, I would urge all employers to promote SPL nonetheless.“The scheme gives employees the flexibility they need, and the benefits for the employer are tangible too: there’s a reduced turnover, increased staff loyalty and engagement, and it helps to create a family friendly culture.“Employers have a duty to support their maternity and paternity leavers during and after their leave. It’s of vital importance to include leavers in regular work communications (including promotion opportunities), set up KIT days, and offer flexible working options on their return.”

Employers urged to raise their game

Office Genie’s findings chime with research carried out by the CIPD, the professional body for HR and people development at the end of last year. The CIPD’s SPL study found 5% of new fathers and 8% of new mothers have opted to take up their legal right to SPL since its introduction in April 2015.While the figures were in line with government expectations, the CIPD called on government and employers to raise their sights or risk losing valuable talent from the workforce.In March, a cross-party group of MPs also expressed their "extreme concern about the low take-up of SPL" and "gendered working culture." The TUC is also calling for an increase in statutory maternity pay (SMP) and Maternity Allowance to match the minimum wage, as well as shared parental pay and paternity pay.

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