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Why we need to change our perceptions on paternity leave – An interview

One of our Rufus Writers explores the disparity between maternity and paternity leave and how we can get it right.

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IN THE UK THE DISPARITY BETWEEN PAID MATERNITY LEAVE AND PAID PATERNITY LEAVE IS HUGE

By Rufus Writer

A few months ago, David Beckham was publicly criticised for kissing his daughter on the lips. A few months before that, Daniel Craig was chastised by Piers Morgan for carrying his son in a papoose – citing this as proof the Bond actor had been ‘emasculated’. These doting acts of affection would obviously be commonplace for a mother, so why are they seen as such strange behaviour for a father?

The double standards don't end there...In the UK the disparity between paid maternity leave and paid paternity leave is huge. The site ‘Dad Info’ used data from The Fatherhood Research Institute to show that mothers receive up to 52 weeks maternity leave, of which the first 6 weeks must be paid at 90% of salary, and the remaining 33 weeks at a minimum statutory rate. While, fathers receive just 2 weeks’ paternity leave, paid at a minimum statutory rate.

Why sharing is caring

While fathers have existed since the dawn of time, the notion of men taking an equal role in parenting still feels like a new frontier. Yet research shows that sharing parental responsibility has enormous benefits for everyone involved. In Sweden, research shows that fathers who took paternity leave in the late 1970s had an 18% lower risk of alcohol related death than other fathers, and a 16% overall reduced risk of early death. And couples where the father took more than 2 weeks off to care for their first child were found to be 30% less likely to separate.

Meanwhile data on more than 4,000 women from a national maternity survey found that mothers whose partners hadn’t taken paternity leave were more likely to report feeling unwell at 3 months, and mothers with more than one child whose partners didn’t take leave had higher rates of post-natal depression.

Getting it right

Nordic countries place a high-level of importance on equality. And though we’re not there yet, they’re proof that fairer parental leave is achievable on a systemic level.

In Norway the paternity leave system, when compared with the UK, is extremely generous. Mothers can take 35 weeks at 100% or 45 weeks at 80% pay, while fathers take between 0 and 10 weeks. While over in Sweden, parents share approximately 16 months of parental leave at generally 80% of their salary, with 90 days solely reserved to each parent.

But is the reluctance or lack of expectation for fathers to take extended paternity leave based solely on the legalities and cold hard cash or is it a social factor?

Changing perceptions

While it certainly isn’t the entire populations’ opinion (I mean, we’re not all Piers Morgan), the fact that out-modish opinions are even broadcast indicates that prejudice still very much exists. We can easily argue that the notion of a man having less involvement in their child’s first years is merely generational. But without systemic support, can we expect dads to be motivated to take extended paternity leave?

So if the system is backward, what can we, as businesses, do to stimulate change from within? Here at Rufus Leonard, we strive to support our dads in making the right choices for themselves and their families. To get an insight into parental leave and the challenges faced, I decided to chat to Rufus Leonard Daddio, Thanos. A member of Rufus’ Internal Support team, he took a year of paternity leave while his partner ran her successful business.

On his return I admit I expected to see a tired broken man walk through Rufus Leonard’s doors. I know a lot of women whose first year of parenthood has left them exhausted and, in my experience, Thanos is more familiar with the party life than the paternal. But the man that arrived looked suspiciously refreshed – I had to find out more. 

Why did you choose to take extended paternity leave? 

So I can spend quality time and bond with my kid. Hopefully he would have said “daddy” first instead of “mommy”…Failed the latter but it was worth it!

What are three words that describe the experience?

Love. Amazing. Easy!

What would you say the pro’s of paternity leave are?

Bonding and being able to spend time with your kid, which is especially important at that age when you can see changes happening with them weekly. And being able to visit my family and friends in Greece and Spain for a longer period of time, and travelling in generally. Four weeks after he was born, we were off! 

And what are the cons?

Apart from your salary getting chopped (even with the great package that Rufus provides, you will still feel it) but there’s nothing else I didn’t like.

Was it what you expected?

Yes it was exactly as I had it in mind – long walks, travelling, seeing friends, no sleepless nights (we were lucky), smiles, a new way of living. Loved it!

Do you know any other dads also making this choice? 

Yes many and I’m glad. I hope this is the norm from now on.

How did Rufus support your decision?

I received full on support from day one and the HR team came back with answers to all of my questions. The whole paternity leave package that the company gives is fantastic compared to just the statutory paternity pay.

How did your partner feel about the set up? 

She was envious as she had to go back to work after the first couple of months. It was the best thing for us as she is a business owner and had to look after that too.

Would you recommend it?

100% and I’m happy that more and more new dads are going for it. It is a one-time opportunity to have this amazing experience spending time and bonding with your child when they are at that age!

As a company, we couldn’t be more thrilled by Thanos’ experience. As our Head of People and Culture Emily-Faye Duncan puts it:

“Here at Rufus Leonard, we offer flexible working and shared responsibility for our staff that are parents – and we put as much importance on Dads as we do with Mums. We especially pride ourselves on being flexible with leave and HR are always open to a conversation that works for both. It’s not just paternity leave, anything that’s important to you outside of work is important to us. We want to enable our staff to evolve not only their career, but in their life and as a parent.”

Parenthood is full of personal preferences and a few controversies. But if your child’s best interest is your prerogative as a parent, isn’t it time we supported all parents in doing just that?

About the author

Our Rufus Writers are members of our amazing team with years of industry experience delivering considered solutions to all kinds of creative challenges.

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Rufus Writer
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