#WISPchat: Is shared parental leave the answer we’ve been looking for?

#WISPchat: Is shared parental leave the answer we’ve been looking for? What do you think of shared parental leave? Flickr: Parker Knight

Some great points were made on Friday. Scroll down to see the chat in full...


We were all a bit harrowed in November of last year when Everyday Sexism’s report on maternity discrimination was released. It revealed thousands of stories of prejudice, with women wading through workplace discrimination before, during and after pregnancy – with even those who never mentioned motherhood or became pregnant coming under fire on pure supposition. It’s the modern employer’s dilemma: faced with a young man and woman of equal ability, who do you hire? For many bosses, especially those of small businesses, it’s a no brainer: the one who isn’t going to take maternity leave.

So many breathed a sigh of relief last year when former Equalities Minister Jo Swinson announced a shake-up to the traditional system of maternity leave – from April 2015, mums and dads will be allowed to share a year of ‘parental leave’.

Currently, women can take up to one year off, with employers obliged to pay a reduced salary. Parents can share some of the 52 weeks of leave, but they have to take time off in a single block – an inconvenience to many families, especially those struggling with new parenthood.

Employees are allowed to chop and change their plans for parental leave twice over the year. However, after (another) Coalition tug-of-war, even after 2015, bosses will still have the right to insist on pre-arranged dates and a continuous block of leave for the employee.

The reason for this? Familiar fears that shared parental leave is bad for business, especially smaller ones – where an employee taking paid leave can cripple profits. Daniel Barnett argued here that parental leave broken into short periods is a nightmare for employers trying to train a replacement. He also points out that some companies – who currently avoid employing women of childbearing age – may steer clear of young men and women entirely.

Nick Clegg responded to the howls of discontent from the Institute of Directors by arguing that there were economic advantages to shared parental leave: ‘Many businesses already recognise how productive and motivated employees are when they are given the opportunity to work flexibly, helping them retain talent and boost their competitive edge.’

You could also argue – and many do – that the economic disadvantages and advantages are irrelevant in the face of blatant gender inequality. Undoubtedly, women are being discriminated against for the fact their gender are more likely to take time off to have a child, and men are less disposed to take paternity leave for fear of losing ‘face’ – and this type of inequality is unethical and unfair to both sexes. Our ambassador Caroline Criado-Perez argued that the easy and obvious solution to this is shared parental leave.

What’s your experience of maternity leave? As a woman, have you ever experienced workplace discrimination? Do you think shared parental leave would help the situation?

We’ll be tweeting tomorrow from 2pm GMT on shared parental leave, so drop in using the #WISPchat hashtag to share your thoughts.

We asked, you answered. Here's what the Twittosphere had to say:

Thanks for all your participation, and remember to join in next week!



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