The Institute for Fiscal Studies yesterday published a report showing that the 18 per cent gender pay gap steadily worsens once women have children. Alongside better quality part-time jobs, affordable childcare, a living wage and equal pay audits, greater uptake of shared parental leave from fathers would go a long way to closing the gap. Political parties should set out plans to reform shared parental leave, as part of a bold commitment to eradicating the gender pay gap once and for all.
Labour enshrined equal pay audits into law before leaving office in 2010. These would require companies with more than 250 employees to publish to publish their gender pay gap. Six years on, this still has not happened. Publishing audits would help us better understand the problem, while giving businesses an incentive to pay fairer wages or be publicly shamed. We must keep demanding equal pay audits, but they are only the start.
Tackling the cultural and financial barriers that mean only one in 10 men take up shared parental leave would help women continue their careers and reduce the pay gap. Challenging the assumption that childcare is predominantly a woman’s responsibility would reduce discrimination in recruitment and promotion. It would also help fathers to foster better relationships with their children and set the stage for shared caring responsibilities beyond infancy.
Research shows that fathers want to spend more time with their babies. Gender stereotypes that set in from birth, when girls are given toy dolls to play with and boys get toy cars, make that harder. As well as challenging those stereotypes – which have a wider impact on pay equality – there should be incentives for dads to take parental leave, helping to reduce the stigma.
Sweden and Quebec have done this by introducing a ‘daddy month’: one month of non-transferable leave for a new father. Through this ‘use it or lose it’ policy, the number of dads taking parental leave rose to 90 per cent and 80 per cent respectively. After the first month, they are more likely to share the remaining leave with the mother.
We should change the eligibility criteria for shared parental leave too. The TUC has estimated that two in five fathers are not eligible because their partner is not in paid work, and therefore has no parental leave to share. Making it the norm for men to take on caring responsibilities would benefit everyone.
As well as cultural barriers, there are significant financial barriers that must be addressed to make shared parental leave work properly.
Men, on average, earn more than women even before the ‘motherhood penalty’ kicks in, meaning household finances take a bigger hit if men take time off. With women more likely to be on low pay, a universal living wage would help to lessen the impact.
Better financial incentives would help too. Men’s uptake of parental leave is greater in countries where the wage replacement rate is higher. Giving less affluent families money on top of the base rate of leave pay, and offering financial bonuses to parents who share leave equally, would help promote gender equality.
It is not just about legislation. Employers have a big role to play too. They must ensure men are not judged for taking leave and that they provide financial support packages that promote equality.
Helping fathers play a greater role in childcare would benefit everyone. It is time we took shared leave seriously and put our money where our mouth is to close the gender pay gap.
I am 24. At the current rate, I will have retired before the gender pay gap is closed. Women need action now.