Better paternity leave entitlements could help narrow the gender pay gap

Equality in the workplace is built on equality in the home. Rose Stephenson makes the case for more higher education institutions to go further on paternity pay

Rose Stephenson is Director of Policy and Advocacy at the Higher Education Policy Institute

The UK’s statutory paid paternity leave offer is among the worst in Europe.

Statutory paternity policy in the UK – except for Northern Ireland, where there are different rules – is that dads are entitled to one or two weeks of statutory paternity leave. Statutory paternity pay is £184.03, or 90 per cent of your average weekly earnings, whichever is lower. For a 35-hour working week, that’s an hourly wage of £5.26 per hour. Some can’t even take their one or two weeks of paternity pay, simply because they cannot afford to.

The parent trap

Only offering two weeks of paternity leave suggests that childcare is the role of mums, and not dads.

This is an issue for mothers, and we see that the point at which the gender pay gap really kicks in for women is when they have their first child. This is known as the motherhood penalty. It’s also a problem for dads, who may feel forced back to work, taking them away from the opportunity to bond with their little one. This statutory process reinforces gender stereotypes – mum looks after the children, and becomes the “default” parent, and dad goes to work. One colleague explained this to me as follows:

[My husband] went back to work, and I immediately became the baby expert. He wasn’t with us in the day, so I was the one who knew when to feed the baby and put him down to nap. I knew nothing about babies either, but suddenly I was in charge of all baby-related decisions, and he was excluded from the process of learning as a parent.

If, by the end of maternity leave, dad is still working full time, the responsibility may fall on mum to work flexibly around childcare arrangements. Trying to find an interesting and well-paid career that fits between the hours of 9:30am and 2:30pm can be quite challenging. And again, without flexible working, dad may be excluded from the parenting duties of school drop offs, pick-ups, homework and clubs – increasing the challenges he may face to accessing equal parenting.

Shared parental leave came into force in 2015, which allows mothers to essentially transfer some of her maternity leave to their child’s father. However, the take up has been low, with 40 per cent of fathers not eligible for shared parental leave.

A paltry paid paternity leave is bad for mums and bad for dads. But it is also bad for the economy. Research from the Centre for Progressive Policy, which analysed data across the OECD, finds that countries with more than six weeks of paid paternity leave have a 4-percentage point smaller gender wage gap than countries that have less than six weeks. And progress made towards closing the gender pay gap is good for the economy.

Find the gap

So, what’s this got to do with higher education?

Last month, I published a report for the Higher Education Policy Institute on the gender pay gap in higher education. There is plenty of good news for the higher education sector in this report. The median gender pay gap for the sector is at 11.9 per cent, compared to 14.4 per cent across the UK. The higher education sector is also closing its gender pay gap faster than the rest of the UK.

There is a lot of variation, with institutions returning median gender pay gaps in 2022 of between 0 and 41 per cent. The report ranks institutions by their mean and median gender pay gaps, as well as the progress they have made to close their gender pay gap since mandatory reporting began in 2017. You can see how your own institution measures up here.

The report also looks at some of the structural reasons why the gender pay gap exists. These include the lack of part-time jobs available at higher salary levels; an over-reliance on metrics such as the H-index and M-index in recruitment and promotion rounds; and the practice of asking applicants about their current salary level during recruitment processes, which bakes inequality into the system.

But perhaps the most interesting finding was this: we asked institutions with small gender pay gaps, and institutions with large gender pay gaps about several metrics that we thought might have been having an impact. This included the number of full weeks of paid maternity and paternity leave offered.

At first glance, there didn’t seem to be anything of note here. Institutions with a large gender pay gap were offering generous amounts of maternity leave – and it was pleasing to see family-friendly policies like this on offer.

Then Clare Matysova for Leeds Business School had a look over the data – and pointed out that the institutions which had a smaller gender pay gap, had a much smaller difference between the number of weeks of maternity pay offered, and the number of weeks of paternity pay offered. The difference between fully paid maternity and paternity leave was 11 weeks in institutions with a small pay gap, and 17 weeks in those with a large pay gap.

Two institutions with small pay gaps offer a whopping 26 weeks of full paid paternity leave. These are the University of the Arts London and Regent’s University (it’s worth noting that Regent’s only recently introduced their policy, so while it won’t have impacted on their gender pay gap data to date, it may be indicative of an inclusive culture).

Now, we need to be a little careful here, as this is a fairly small sample size. However, this chimes with the Centre for Progressive Policy’s research above – that increasing paternity leave can help to close the gender pay gap.

Including, rather than excluding dads from parenting, is great for dad and the kids, but also gives mum more flexibility with work choices too. (There are of course lots of other family set ups, but the gender pay gap is most prevalent in a family unit with a mum and a dad.)

From the home to the workplace

Institutions who want to work towards closing their gender pay gap should consider increasing their paid paternity leave offer and promote the uptake of paternity leave, parental leave and flexible working by dads. Having a broad part-time and flexible working offer for all staff is also important to closing the gender pay gap.

Day-one, generous maternity leave policies, such as those at Durham University among others (read more in this Wonkhe blog) are important, brilliant and wholly welcome.

But given that we will never have equality in the workplace until we have equality in the home, an increase in paid paternity leave may be an important driver towards narrowing the gender pay gap as well as untangling some of the inequity that fathers face when it comes to childcare choices.

One response to “Better paternity leave entitlements could help narrow the gender pay gap

Leave a Reply