Leave for new dads should be ringfenced, says government watchdog

15 Aug 2017 By Hayley Kirton

HR has critical role to play in ‘busting myths’ around flexible working

Pay gaps in crucial areas such as gender and ethnicity could be reduced if all jobs were advertised as flexible and fathers were given more support to take time off to care for their children, the government’s equality watchdog has said today.

The Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) argued that offering more jobs as flexible would open up more opportunities to women and disabled people, who were more likely to take part-time work or need to negotiate flexible hours.

Meanwhile, giving men a ‘use it or lose it’ right to decently paid paternity leave could encourage more fathers to take time off to care for their newborn children and prevent women paying for motherhood with their careers.

“We need new ideas to bring down pay gaps – it’s not just about more women at the top,” said Caroline Waters, deputy chair of the EHRC. “Yes, female representation is important, but tackling pay gaps is far more complicated than that. While there has been some progress, it has been painfully slow.”

According to the EHRC’s research, the gender pay gap is presently 18.1 per cent, the ethnic minority pay gap 5.7 per cent and the disability gap 13.6 per cent.

Other recommendations put forward by the EHRC included addressing differences in educational attainment and access to apprenticeships, investing in sector-specific training and regional enterprise programmes, encouraging employers to confront bias in recruitment and extending pay gap reporting to cover ethnicity and disability.

Staff who have worked for the same employer for at least 26 weeks have had a legal right to request flexible working since June 2014. However, Dr Jill Miller, diversity and inclusion adviser at the CIPD, warned that this was “yet to be recognised as such in practice” and that employers should challenge their assumptions of who flexible working is for.

“HR professionals have a critical role in questioning workplace cultures and busting the myths around what flexible working means, to encourage businesses to act differently,” said Miller. “Through recognition that flexibility is not just about the hours people work and by challenging traditionally rigid job design, organisations can create ‘people-shaped jobs’ that enable those with a range of circumstances to access and reach their potential at work, while boosting long-term productivity.”

Sandra Kerr, race equality director at Business in the Community, said: “Flexibility at work is not only helpful for those with caring responsibilities for children or parents, but also supports those who may need a reasonable adjustment for disability, who wish to downshift their working pattern because of age or who need flexibility for religious observance.”

Meanwhile, a study released by First4lawyers in June warned that dads in the UK were being let down, as the country’s paternity offering lagged behind that of several other nations. For example, new fathers in Sweden are entitled to 80 days more paternal leave than those in the UK.

Since April 2015, new parents have been able to split 52 weeks of leave between them to care for their child under the shared parental leave rules. However, statistics obtained by People Management under a freedom of information request revealed that only 7,100 men received shared parental pay in the 2016-17 tax year, suggesting the scheme is going underused.

A government spokesperson said: “We are committed to making sure everyone can succeed in the workplace, regardless of their race, gender or disability.”

The spokesperson added that the government had recently set up a Disability Confident scheme to “help employers to harness the potential of disabled workers” and a Business Diversity and Inclusion group, which aims to remove barriers to the workplace.

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