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What could shared parental leave mean for the creative industry?

Soon the first parents eligible for shared parental leave will be able to take advantage of the new right, lured by its promise of greater choice and flexibility. The Drum picks apart what this means for the creative industries, including the prospect of improved work/life balance and greater gender equality in the workplace.

This year new shared parental leave legislation will come into effect, meaning parents with babies due on or after 5 April – or if you adopt a child from the same date – will be eligible to share up to 50 weeks of leave and 37 weeks of pay in the first year instead of only the mother taking time out of the workplace. 

Liberal Democrat leader Nick Clegg described the new regulation as a parental “revolution” and something that would allow men to become more hands-on fathers and stop women feeling they have to choose between a career and raising children.

So what could the move spell for the creative industries? To find out more, The Drum caught up with working parents across a number of agencies on what the new legislation means for them and their business.

Creative Review: 

Challenges

‘Grey areas’ in the new legislation, such as non-consecutive leave, present a number of challenges to employers. A survey of over 1,700 employees and managers by the Institute of Leadership and Management found that over half (58 per cent) of managers feared that shared parental leave would lead to disruption to the workplace.

It is perhaps unsurprising then that just 37 per cent of those surveyed think their employer is supportive of the changes to parental leave.

Debbie Klein, chief executive of the Engine Group admits that from an employer’s point of view – implementation of the new legislation is “slightly more administratively burdensome.”

“The ability of employees being able to change their plans and swap sharing arrangements – after giving appropriate notice – means there is a greater risk around resource planning within the business.”

However, it is not without precedent. In Denmark, similar legislation has been in place for the past 20 years. Mike Hope, enterprise director at Pearl & Dean, is half Danish and tells us he grew up with a different attitude to parenting than Brits.

“In Denmark it is just the most natural thing in the world,” he says. “It’s rare you find one parent going out to work and one staying at home to look after the children. The new legislation simply allows both parents to sit down and work out what’s best for them as a family.”

Dare chief executive Leigh Thomas explains that while it was difficult, in advance of the legislation coming into effect she has already communicated to Dare’s employees the new options for parents through a ‘working parents manifesto’. Thomas describes it as “a promise to the people in our business and how we feel about working parents.”

“We are open to flexible working, we’re not into presenteeism. We’re taking action against the unconscious bias. There are already a couple of blokes who take afternoons for childcare and we need to be as protective of them as women who’ve carved out that time. We’d like maternity and paternity mentoring. We don’t have all the answers but we want to have an open dialogue about what the policies mean from the very beginning.”

What does it mean for women?

Nick Clegg appears to have held this legislation up as a silver bullet for women who want to work and raise a family. Zone director Amanda McKenna, who is just about to have her second baby, remains sceptical and described the legislation as “a move to make both sexes be seen as an equal risk when it comes to family commitments.

“Therefore over time women will be afforded the same opportunities to climb the ladder. There are still major hurdles. It is still not the norm for men to be a primary caregiver – there still needs to be change around those societal expectations,” she says.

The biggest challenge to encourage more men to consider sharing parental leave, particularly for smaller agencies, centres on pay. The ILM research found that the gender pay gap is reversed when it comes to paid parental leave, with fathers paid significantly less on average by their employers when on leave. This ultimately perpetuates the cultural expectation that women will be the only ones taking extended periods away from the workplace.

McKenna reveals Zone has already taken the decision to offer the same pay to fathers.

“Small businesses need to take a decision early on that people are a resource and you need to prioritise how to create a loyal workforce. It’s tough. But the trick is how you turn it to your commercial advantage.”

Attracting talent

Among those The Drum spoke to, by far the biggest opportunity the new legislation provided was the chance to attract new talent.

Last year, industry body Nabs conducted research into the challenges faced by working parents. It found that 57 per cent of people in marketing know someone who has left a job because of parental pressures, while an even greater number will sacrifice evenings and weekends as they juggle the demands of both. 

Lorraine Jennnings, Nabs head of support, said while new legislation will not have an immediate effect on the number of women reaching board level, it will begin to address what is being increasingly perceived by younger generations coming into the industry as an unhealthy work/life balance.

She says: "‘Generation Y’ is no longer interested in working round the clock and agencies being supportive of family and helping parents plan for having a family is vital if they want to continue to attract fresh talent."
 
Gareth Jones, chief brand and content officer and international chief marketing officer at DigitasLBi, agrees, saying the industry has fundamentally failed to support those with family commitments and that lack of flexibility no longer cuts it with younger generations.

“We work in a service industry where the pressure to deliver for clients is immense. Our industry is famed for early mornings, late nights and working weekends. But there’s a whole new generation coming through who aren’t’ interested in that and we have to change and evolve our attitude.” 

Like Dare and Zone, Jones says DigitasLBi has already communicated the new options but adds: “We already support non-specific location based working, flexible hours and term-time working, so this is just an extension of what we’re doing." 

The new legislation comes into effect from 5 April. See below for a detailed explanation of the new policy.

The legislation

At present, additional paternity leave allows fathers to take up to six months away from work after his child reaches 20 weeks. The new legislation aims to make this more flexible.

It remains compulsory for new mothers to take the first two weeks’ leave, but after that parents will be allowed to split up to 50 weeks off work after having a baby or adopting.

In theory this means new parents could take 25 weeks off together or could take it in rotation. For example, the mother takes the first 10 weeks before returning to work while the father takes 10 weeks off, and so on. This is called non-consecutive leave and can be taken in a maximum of three blocks by each parent.

Unless an employer offers an enhanced package, pay will be at the statutory level. 

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