Cultural barriers in the workplace are impeding the uptake of paternity leave, according to research published by the Institute of Leadership & Management (ILM) today. The report warns that plans for shared parental leave will have little impact if ingrained attitudes towards paternity and maternity leave are not addressed.

According to the study of 1,000 employees and almost 800 managers, fewer than 10% of new fathers take more than two weeks of paternity leave, falling to 2% among managers, who feel greater pressure to return to work. A quarter of new fathers take no paternity leave whatsoever on the birth or adoption of a child.

A perceived lack of support from employers was revealed as a major factor limiting the uptake of paternity leave. Employees felt their organisations were less supportive of men taking two weeks of paternity leave (58%) than of mothers taking up to a full year of maternity leave (63%), leading to fewer men taking time out from the office after the birth of a child.

Charles Elvin, Chief Executive of the Institute of Leadership & Management, comments: “The introduction of shared parental leave is a crucial step towards enabling more women to progress into senior roles, yet our research revealed cultural barriers are impeding the uptake of both two weeks statutory paternity leave and Additional Paternity Leave. These attitudes pose a real challenge to the widespread acceptance of shared parental leave in 2015.”

Low levels of paternity pay are also impacting on the numbers of new fathers taking parental leave. While 70% of new mothers on maternity leave receive full pay between 1 and 38 weeks, just 9% of fathers receive anything longer than two weeks at full pay. This inconsistency in maternity and paternity pay is an active financial disincentive for new fathers to take either the two weeks statutory paternity leave or longer periods of Additional Paternity Leave, with new mothers far more likely to have their pay ‘topped up’ by their employer.

Charles Elvin continues: “This paternity pay gap not only creates practical financial barriers to shared parental leave, it also reinforces a cultural expectation within organisations that women will be the ones taking extended periods away from the workplace, which may halt their career progression. The new shared leave proposals create a real opportunity for employers to address these issues around enhanced pay and retain the flow of female talent into senior roles.”

While employees are widely supportive (84%) of shared leave, a much lower number (37%) think their employer is supportive of the changes, and one in five say their organisation is actively opposed to new fathers sharing leave with their partner.

This may, in part be due to concerns over the level of disruption caused by parental leave, with over half (58%) of managers describing it as disruptive to their team or organisation, and 16% describing it as very disruptive. SMEs were most affected by parental leave across the board and in most need of increased support and advice on introducing the new shared leave proposals.

Charles Elvin continues: “The implementation of forthcoming shared leave proposals will clearly pose some practical challenges for managers and employers, particularly those in smaller businesses. Supporting and training managers to plan more thoroughly for these situations and lead teams through periods of change will help minimise any disruption.”