workingparentsThe Trade Union Congress released figures this week which got me thinking once again how we can address the issue of diversity in the workplace. According to the TUC, less than 1% of fathers are taking Additional Paternity Leave (APL), with fewer than one in three (29%) spending longer than two weeks at home following the birth of their child.

While there has been a focus on encouraging more women back to work after childbirth, these figures suggest to me that there could also be a need to persuade more men to take longer paternity leave. There are understandably reasons behind this low number of men taking APL and the TUC highlighted the low-level of statutory pay as one of the main challenges.

Needless to say, there is some taboo around who should be the stay-at-home parent after a child is born with this often falling down to the female in the relationship. However, if it was financially viable for a father to take extended paternity leave, would we see a greater balance in the gender divide? When you consider that these figures are in line with statutory maternity pay, one could suggest that it’s not necessarily just about the money. So what is really holding men back?

There is of course the very real possibility that men are being put off by the negative perceptions associated with a career break. With the on-going debate around women returning to work after childbirth and the perceived negative impact such a break can have on your career, is it really surprising that men are reluctant to take time while their partner goes back to work? On top of this, it’s also very possible that the old stereotype of child rearing as a women’s job is still haunting many board rooms. And while an individual may not necessarily agree with this, if the environment they work in is not conducive towards men taking limited paternity leave they will fall into the same trap.

Perhaps then this issue is not just about encouraging more men to take paternity leave or women back to work– it’s a balancing act for all involved to work as a team. And if we as HR professionals aim to strip away the taboo when it comes to a pausing your employment for your child, there’s not only the chance to drive diversity within an organisation, but we also create a happier workforce. If staff wish to take time off to spend with their children but aren’t due to the issues raised above, are we not creating a perfect environment for a demotivated workforce?

I’ve speculated before that diversity isn’t a numbers game. In order to reach a point where it is built into an organisations framework and the workforce are fully engaged in the process, there will need to be a cultural change within the company.

Perhaps the challenge then isn’t just about increasing the number of mothers returning to work, but in changing these perceptions of paternity leave at all organisational levels and shifting the balance of stay at home mums. We are in an environment where change is the new norm, so why shouldn’t HR professionals drive change and encourage more dads to take extended paternity pay?

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