Talking Shared Parental Leave with a City banking employee (who actually took it)

Nearly three years after it was introduced, it appears that only 2 per cent of eligible couples are taking the opportunity to split caregiving in their newborn’s early months. Shared Parental Leave (SPL) has been shown to be good for children, good for parents and good for gender equality – and yet approximately half the general public are still unaware of its existence. If companies want to show they are serious about equality at work, and tackling the gender pay gap, they should introduce a standalone period of extended paternity leave for fathers/partners on full pay. Companies seeking to display excellence in diversity need not stop at having attractive SPL schemes, they must advertise them, celebrate them and let them flow into the culture.

Here Rod Fry from Natwest Markets talks about his experience of Shared Parental Leave:

Tell me how you first found out about SPL and your initial reactions? 

So I remember hearing about it long before we were pregnant. Around the time that the legislation was passed in April 2015. I immediately thought it was a great idea but that was very much at a theoretical stage. It turned out I wouldn’t need to think about the practicalities of actually applying for SPL until almost 2 years later.

What were the logistics of getting set up to take SPL

Having heard about it, it was fairly easy to apply for it. Once I understood the terminology it was fairly easy to set up with support from my employer, who talked me through it several times on the phone.

What was the nature of the Shared Parental Leave (SPL) agreement with Natwest?

6 weeks full parental leave (no logging in to work), fully paid. No debit from annual holiday allowance.

Ok, so logistically it wasn’t too tough: what, if any, were your personal concerns about taking Shared Leave? 

First of all, 6 weeks was longer than I had ever taken leave for before, for any reason. Since no one else I knew of, in the area in which I work, had tried this before – they had all taken the standard two weeks – something about 6 weeks felt more significant. I guess I wondered if people might think, well if we can do without him for 6 weeks, could we do without him altogether? Is this going to be a career-limiting decision?

Many people I spoke to in advance of the leave said things like, “wow, that’s a long time!” Old friends, however, mostly said “that’s great!” So bit of a mixture of reactions prior to the birth of my son.

Any other concerns beyond impact on work? 

As this was my first child, I had no basis for comparison, but yeah – there were plenty of concerns around having a baby generally! I also wondered whether there would really be much I could do with such a young baby given my wife would be breast-feeding and his needs would be fairly basic, if constant.

Despite the concerns you’ve outlined, why did you decide to go for it anyway? 

I always just really liked it as an idea, the fairness of it. It makes good sense, it gets rid of one of the reasons the Gender Pay Gap supposedly persists. If men are as likely to go on leave as women, it will be seen as a universal issue to be addressed. I needed to go through with it. I suppose it’s like when people say, I am all in support of wind energy as long as the wind farms don’t spoil my view!

If you believe in something – an important societal change – you have to take a bit of a leap, be a bit brave.

Right, so the logistics were sorted, the fears were there but your mind was made up – what was it actually like? 

Tiring. Surreal. But, I think, well the first 2 weeks are the same as anybody’s first two weeks seem to be. It’s knackering, you don’t get any sleep. I didn’t know how long it takes for a woman to recover from childbirth. “Regular childbirth.” A lot of what was needed in those first few weeks was helping my wife. Fetching things, making food, lifting stuff, cleaning the house, walking our dogs, looking after our son while my wife took hot baths to aid in healing. Listening to her concerns, being a source of comfort as well as a second pair of hands. To say nothing of what she was up against. The fun bit started after the first 2 weeks, for both of us. We actually went to loads of restaurants and a friend’s 40th in a bar. I learned babies sleep a lot at that early stage, just not at night!
But at the end of the 2 weeks, knowing I still had 4 weeks off, I kept thinking: I have no idea how anybody copes taking just 2 weeks. We were sharing everything – night feeding (with expressed milk), nappy changing, settling, laundry (so much laundry), sterilising bottles… all of it. By the end of the 6 weeks though, I felt I had a bond with my son and that my wife and I had established a real team dynamic in terms of caring for him.

When my son smiled for the first time at about 5 weeks. I was there for that.

What was the hardest thing about it? 

The lack of sleep really is hard. My wife says she felt she had “hormonal help” with the sleep deprivation. When I did go back to work the sleep deprivation and memory loss hit especially hard. We mostly continued to sleep in the same room, but I can easily see why so many people don’t.

What was the best bit about it? 

My son is just great. He’s fab. He’s just the best to hang out with. I suppose the best thing is the confidence I gained to take care of him. If I had only taken 2 weeks I don’t think I would have felt nearly as confident. A few months in, when my partner went back to work, I took a few days holiday allowance so we could take our son on her business trip. She was delivering an all-day workshop and I looked after our little boy without really thinking about it. It felt natural at that point.

Would you encourage other men/non-birthing parents to take SPL? And if so, how? 

Absolutely, my experience has been overwhelmingly positive. Any concerns I had in terms of the reaction of my employer have not materialised. In fact, quite the opposite. I had an excellent end of year performance review and a few men in my department have now taken (or are considering taking) SPL beyond the standard 2 weeks. I can’t help but talk enthusiastically about the whole experience.

Any last pieces of advice to those considering taking SPL? 

Talk openly with your employer about what your intentions are. It should be easy to find out what the process is. Speak to others who may have taken SPL and ultimately – just go for it.

Further information on taking Shared Parental Leave can be found here