I'll tell you something: Why you should future-proof your parental leave policy

Organisations need to think about the human impact of their business decisions, says Martyn Dicker

As a single parent of two young children I spend a lot of time thinking about how I can provide them with the best opportunities in life. I know from my days of childcare how important the first two years of life are for the development of a child’s brain. I know how much of a crucial role primary caregivers play in this period – from nutrition and protection, to the stimulation a child receives. I also know, now, how fleeting those early moments are.

When both of my children were born, I only had a couple of weeks’ paid paternity leave, which is a tiny amount of time. On my return to work I altered my hours and made the most of this precious period. But I would have liked to have played an even more active role (and read The Lion Inside just a few hundred more times with my children).

And I know I’m not the only one. For the UK’s 13 million working parents, balancing childcare responsibilities with workplace obligations continues to be a challenge. This is despite evidence showing equalised parental leave helps tackle the gender pay gap, as well as enhancing child development. And so we must realise as people professionals that current policies are becoming redundant. It is time to shift the focus away from gender, sexual orientation or length of service, and put it on the individual child and caregiver. This is why at Unicef UK we have rolled out equalised parental leave for all employees. When our policy was announced internally in October, we received positive feedback from colleagues. There was very much a celebratory feel, with the children of colleagues in our HR team even getting involved in a launch video. People still approach us around the office to praise this work.

Looking to the future, we wanted to challenge our people, and by extension society, to shift their mindset in terms of traditional caregiving responsibilities. We were hoping to start a conversation, especially across boardrooms and among people professionals. We have received an encouraging response from other sector leaders, the media and influencers. This shows we’ve tapped into something very important to a lot of us. In the last couple of months, we have started seeing more companies and charities implementing similar policies, and we hope this will soon be the norm.

There are some key steps I would recommend to any employer looking to follow suit. When it comes to people issues, it’s always good to talk. Having open and honest conversations with your people, and gathering feedback about their needs and what’s important to them, will ensure you build a policy suited to your employees. I also recommend projecting the number of people potentially affected and costs, and then bringing in the changes at the start of a new financial year, to make the transition smoother. When considering the costs involved in reviewing your parental leave benefits, weigh these up against the impact on employee wellbeing, engagement, retention rates, your gender pay gap and, most importantly, the child.

Martyn Dicker is director of people at Unicef UK