As our CEO Nik Hartley returns from nearly three months paternity leave, he reflects on his time out of the office and wonders why it is still a talking point.
“It will be such vital bonding… Never to be repeated… Well done for doing it… Bet you can’t wait to get back to work… Wow that is brave… How does your company manage?… You’ll never let go… It can’t work with all of your staff going off… I bet you are exhausted… That’s amazing…”
These are just some of the contrasting platitudes, opinions and reactions that have been on tap ever since I headed off on paternity leave. A period that I tag teamed with my wife Sal, who did the first three months with our new son Nye.
And all felt wrong. OK, not all; but always in the surprised and newsy tone. Notably I have been asked by dozens of colleagues across our sector and beyond to write about my personal experience of being on leave as a dad. I am not going to; there is nothing to see here (though you can read a related piece here on just how vital our time was at the outset).
Yes, Sal and I shared the most important early months of Nye’s life equally and we have experienced different yet, equally life-altering time with a forming (and storming!) little human being. However,in a few years time,I hope that is not a sentence worth noting.
What really matters is that I was able to tag team with Sal, not through a “modern view on parenting” (more of those reactions), but simply because Restless Development took a tough but straightforward decision on equity. That is: man or woman, married or single, heterosexual or LGBT, delivering a baby or adopting a baby – bluntly irrespective of someone’s status – it would offer the same amount of leave on full pay.
And that is it. That is all there is to see here.
Across the countries where Restless Development works, the legal situation is varied. The cultural and social situation is too. Here in our UK Hub, the government has tried to get the legal part of equalisation moving – not least with its Shared Parental Leave policies. But until everything else changes, we should stop being surprised that so few have taken up this opportunity. While public debates on shared parenting mostly wonder about intent and social norms, the reality is that the issue is mostly economic and steeped in male-bias of earnings. Families, of almost all economic levels, can’t afford to share leave.
We have 400 staff globally. We will be hit financially by 100% of staff having the opportunity to take the same leave when they have/adopt/foster a baby. This hit will continue as, in time, we improve that leave as well as other working conditions relating to nursing, breastfeeding, childcare and so on, as we surely must. This may be a hit in the short term, but imagine if all organisations make a similar move. In a few years from now, when a staff member announces a baby is on the way, there will be no reason to make any assumptions about the choices they will make.
My time away from Restless with Nye might be worth an anecdote in the pub. But here, in a public space, it is surely not about me (a privileged, relatively well paid male CEO, taking time with a newborn). It is about a difficult journey Restless has begun, addressing the crucial world of families – a vital centre-point of sexual and reproductive rights where even in this country the subject is cluttered with immobile assumptions, gender inequity and unshattered glass ceilings. This must surely be an internal priority as we build our business plan alongside our new strategy. Sharing the first months of a baby’s life, as personally required, could be a good starting point.