Why is paternity leave important?

Dr Maria Socratous, Director of Business Studies at CIM, writes about the importance of addressing structural and cultural inequalities, and explains why a compulsory paternity leave would go some way towards alleviating these inequalities.

Women take on maternity leave to spend time with their new-born and give space to their body to return to the pre-pregnancy phase. But what are they missing by not being present at the workplace?

It has been identified, by several researchers, that women not only miss out on important things while they are away on maternity leave, but they are also having difficulties in adjusting when they return. Although family-friendly policies, like flexible working hours or the mothers’ scheme, are in place in some organisations, they seem to have the reverse outcome and mothers are perceived by some employees as less willing and able to invest in their job. This is clearly a challenge for organisations, which need to adjust and/or reform policies in order to be helpful to all employees, both male and female, and so as to create more commitment on the employees’ behalf; this will, in turn, have positive results for the companies themselves. Keeping the employees happy makes them more productive. Hence, a change in organisational structure that would allow both men and women to balance work and family is of great importance. It is not enough to give women the opportunity to stay at home; rather, proper mechanisms are needed to help them upon their return to work.

Academic research shows that women are forced to adapt to the male working model. Women in academia have admitted that, while they took their maternity leave on paper, they did not actually use it; instead, they were working from home and returned early to the workplace. They said they could not afford being away for four months. These women have devoted many years and much effort to their careers and seemed loathe to jeopardize that investment. It has also been noted – in earlier research – that only women who can conform to the male stereotype can take advantage of the possibilities given to them at the workplace.

Which is why a compulsory paternity leave should be given to men who become fathers. This way both fathers and mothers would have responsibility of their new-born and men could appreciate the difficulties women are faced with when they return to the workplace after maternity leave. Another suggestion is the introduction of parental leave, currently applicable in some Nordic countries – for example, Estonia. This way, both the parents can stay home for the whole, or some of the period, provided by the parental leave. This measure might encourage more men to spend more time with, and feel the responsibility of, their children. Also, it might give the opportunity to women to better combine work with family and specific gender characteristics must be taken into account when forming equality programs.

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