How shared parental leave policies can help close the gender gap

Shared parental leave (SPL) is when the mother shares part of her maternity leave and pay with their partner, so they both have time off to look after their child. It can also be used by parents that are adopting, fostering, or using a surrogate. allows parents to share up to 50 weeks of leave and up to 37 weeks of pay between you which you need to share within the first year of the child joining your family. You can either take your leave in blocks separated by periods at work or in one go. You can also decide if you’ll be off work together or stagger the leave and pay. If these policies are implemented in an effective way, they can help to close the gender pay gap.

In the UK in 2022, the mean gender pay gap was 12.28%, down from 12.66% the previous year. Whilst this is heading in the right direction, there is still a way to go until we reach gender-balanced pay, and adopting new practices and policies, such as SPL, is one of the ways that we can achieve this. A study by UK-based Institute for Fiscal Studies found that on average, women in paid work earn approximately 18% less than men, with the gap only increasing when they become mothers. When they reach the 12th year after their first child, this gap rises to 33%. Whereas, if each parent takes the same time off and takes the same pay, it won’t have the same impact. Therefore, it is important that employers pay attention to the paternity packages they offer and ensure male colleagues are aware of them.


What is the gender pay gap and why is it important to close it?

Companies with 250 employees or more must annually publish a report detailing their gender pay gap. This includes the following metrics:

  • The mean gender pay gap
  • The median gender pay gap
  • The mean gender bonus gap
  • The median gender bonus gap
  • The number of women and men who are getting a bonus
  • The number of men and women in each 4 pay quartiles

This then allows employers to come up with an action plan on how they can reduce the gap, demonstrating their commitment to gender equality in the workplace. It also allows employers, employees, and prospective employees to see if the organisation has managed to make any improvements to this gap over the years, which might attract a wider talent pool and help develop a reputation for being a fair and progressive employer.

However, these figures don’t necessarily mean women are paid less for doing the same job, but it can show men are generally in more senior roles in the company than women. For example, a recent report showed that in 2022 just 10.9% of those holding CEO or senior leadership roles in tech are women and they are less likely to receive a 20% bonus. Staggeringly around 78% of large organisations admitted to having a gender pay gap in tech, with males earning more than females. Only 14% have a median pay gap for women in tech and 8% have no pay gap at all. This large percentage of tech companies having a gender pay gap, it’s no wonder why it’s one of the reasons so many women leave the tech industry and is one of the biggest barriers to true gender equality in tech. Whether you are supporting a family, or just yourself, your pay plays a huge part in your life. If it is lower than it should be, it can create stress and ultimately choose you to pick another career that will pay better. This can be particularly exacerbated if you also have a baby on the way or are a new parent.


You can find out more about the gender pay gap here and some company gender pay gap figures here.

How shared leave can help close the gender pay gap and the motherhood penalty

Without equal parental leave, equality cannot be achieved, and the gender pay gap will continue to be an issue. Research has shown that by 20 years after the birth of their first child, women have, on average, been in paid work for four years less than men and have spent nine years less in paid work of more than 20 hours per week. This means that the hourly wages of men (and of women in full-time work) pull further and further ahead, which demonstrates the impact leave or taking a career break can have on a mother’s career and their income. However, if this load can be shared by the father it will reduce this gap in career progression and pay.

A perceived lack of support from employers was revealed as a major factor limiting the uptake of paternity leave. Employees felt their organisations were less supportive of men taking two weeks of paternity leave (58%) than of mothers taking up to a full year of maternity leave (63%), leading to fewer men taking time out from the office after the birth of a child. In Finland, both mothers and fathers get nearly seven months’ paid leave, half of which will be non-transferable, while all references to maternity and paternity leave are being scrapped. Sweden, Iceland, and Finland all have some form of non-transferable leave for the father and their percentage of men’s uptake show that this really works, with Sweden and Iceland men’s uptake being at around 90%. By introducing a non-transferable period of paid leave for co-carers, it will encourage parents to genuinely share the responsibilities in raising their children and signal that fathers are valued for something other than income.

The motherhood penalty is a term used by sociologists to describe socioeconomic disadvantages in earnings and perceived professional competence for working mothers. Statistics have shown that working mothers’ earnings have around a 4-5% drop per child. By contrast, men have a fatherhood bonus where they are more likely to land a higher paying job. This shows how important it is that the responsibilities of childrearing are shared, otherwise this gap will continue to increase. As well as impacting pay, the motherhood penalty also means women don’t gain new skills and experiences at work, at the same rate men do and therefore get passed up for any promotions, ultimately negatively impacting their pay and potentially, their wellbeing. This can make women less likely to want to continue working, and with only approximately 26% of women in tech, this can have a huge detrimental impact on the gender pay gap in tech.


You can read more about the motherhood penalty and the gender pay gap here.

Why companies need to be educated in shared leave

More than just being beneficial in reducing the gender pay gap, there are other benefits to taking SPL. For instance, babies undergo large amounts of brain development in the first two years of life and are very dependent on their parents and the bond they create with them. Therefore, the experiences they have with their caregivers are crucial in the early years. For example, gestures of affection including hugs and kisses have been shown to lead to a greater amount of growth hormones (ensuring complete development in childhood) and stimulates affective development, helping them learn how to express their emotions. In fact, it has been found that father’s often feel that rushing back to work in this crucial time had a negative impact on their relationship with their birthing partner and they struggled to create a bond with their new baby. Moreover, a total of 73% of mothers surveyed said they felt abandoned during this vulnerable time. Therefore, taking SPL at the same time in the early months can also help your baby as it will allow time to create attachment between them and their parents. Also, having two pairs of hands will double the amount of hugs and kisses they can get!

In addition, taking leave can play a role in alleviating post-partum depression (PPD) symptoms, a common occurrence with 1 in 10 women and men suffering from this within a year of their baby being born. There are many factors that can lead to PPD, including increased responsibility, change in hormones, change in routine, financial concerns, tiredness, and also the worry about how you will be able to return to work. In particular, it can feel very daunting having to look after a small human on your own, however if you have your partner there helping you, it can help reduce some of this stress and fear.

Despite the clear benefits of implementing SPL, both for the company, the parents and the child, there are still few fathers that take up this opportunity, with only 2% of new parents splitting their entitlement and only a third of UK Dads taking paternity leave at all. One reason for this might be the low paternity pay, which hasn’t increased with inflation. Contrary to the UK’s parental leave scheme, parents in Sweden have up to eight years to take that leave. Sweden also has one of the highest rates of breastfeeding in the world. The UK, by contrast, has one of the lowest. Which may correlate to the amount of time they are allowed to have off, not only because it allows for a longer time to allow the mother and child to learn how to do this, but also because they might be generally less stressed.

Another reason for the lack of uptake may be due to not knowing what they are eligible for, for example SPL. Aviva is a good example of a company that offers its UK staff impressive parental leave, including the right to a full year off work and 26 weeks on full pay, regardless of their sex. As a result, the company saw over 99% of new fathers among its workforce taking parental leave, with 84% taking at least six months in 2020. This is why companies need to make the effort to make sure employees are more aware of what the company offers and ensure it is of value.

You can check to see if you are eligible for shared parental leave here.

Company culture

Research has shown that it is not only making sure employees are aware of what their employer offers, but we also need to change company culture surrounding the issue. For instance, Harvard Business Review found that fathers repeatedly felt embarrassed to use offered leave and that in Scotland as many as 22% don’t take any time off after their child is born. They also found that many of the father’s in their study wanted to actively participate in raising their child, but felt they could only do so if their colleagues supported their choices. If a company has the typical male-dominated tech culture it is more likely the father is going to feel ‘weak’ or as though they’re ‘slacking’ if they accept the time off or that it’s the ‘woman’s job’ to look after the child and home. Therefore, it is important to educate employees on SPL and paternity leave to show the positive impact it can have on the employee, their family and even the company and so they can feel supported.

This is also important as it is a common misconception that fathers taking leave will negatively impact the company, however it actually costs the company if they don’t take it. This is because companies with higher participation in programs designed to support working parents have higher employee retention and job satisfaction, both factors that balance out the cost of offering fatherhood benefits. Organisations that don’t offer paid family leave may be doing this as they think it’s too much of an expense, however the benefits of staff engagement and retention outweigh the leave costs. It will also attract new talented employees if they have attractive parental leave policies. Another concern may be for their career prospects if they take the leave, as they may have seen happen with women at work.


Other ways employers can help new parents

More than just implementing shared parental leave policies, there are also several other ways businesses can help. For example, longer shared leave and better paid leave will encourage both parents to take the opportunity. This has been demonstrated in countries like Sweden, which has the highest amount of paternal leave, where each parent is given 240 days paid leave, at about 80% of their salary (plus bonus days in cases of twins), 90 days of which are reserved for each parent and are non-transferable and around 90% of fathers take this up. However, there are also some companies in the UK that have good parental leave, including Aviva. You can read more about these businesses here.

Offering remote working, particularly at the end of the leave can also be very beneficial as it can help ease a person back into work and help increase the chances that the mother will return to work at the end of their leave and not leave the industry. In fact, it is one of the top 5 incentives that women in tech value the most. It will also allow them to spend more time with their children, helping their work-life balance and lessen the feeling of ‘missing out’ on their life events. Being able to work from home is also a way of increasing and maintaining your income and saving money on commuting, which can be very important if money is a concern with a new child in the household.

Returnships are also a great way to support new mums in returning to work after taking leave. They are described as high-level internships that are professionally paid, and they aim to help experienced professionals get back into their senior roles through coaching and mentoring. They also create a support system, not only with your mentor, but they can also help you get to know the other employees in the company, allowing you to receive lots of support and advice. Here are just some of the companies that offer returnship programmes:


You can find out more about maternity pay here and opportunities for tech mums here.