Progressive employers in a tight job market are encouraging more men to take time off when their babies are born
The number of men taking paid parental leave has more than tripled in five years, and while the figure is still woefully low, a shift in attitudes is driving adoption outside of the official statistics.
Inland Revenue figures, obtained under the Official Information Act, show the number of people identifying as men and taking parental leave rose from just 373 in the 2017/18 year to 1254 in 2021/22.
The change takes the proportion of men in parental leave statistics from 0.91 percent to a still paltry 2.19 percent. In the most recent financial year, 57,310 people received paid parental leave.
Those who identified as gender-neutral or who didn’t give a classification made up 0.56 percent.
Duncan Cotterill specialist employment lawyer Jeremy Ansell said the figures would include men who split some portion of the 26 weeks of paid parental leave entitled to parents under the legislation.
The IRD doesn’t hold information on unpaid parental leave or leave funded solely by employers, areas where Ansell is seeing the most growth.
He said there was an increasing willingness by companies to offer parental leave for people other than women, and over and above the statutory entitlements.
“One of the things our clients are starting to look at is having a specific paternity leave available for dads. Some larger companies are even offering paid leave in addition to anything that the mother of the child is entitled to under the legislation.”
Ansell said many employers were also allowing more staff to take unpaid leave, and were topping up parental leave payments beyond the maximum payment of $661.12 per week the Government provided.
“If you’re on a higher salary that could just be a small portion of what you’re receiving.”
Employer adoption of male parental leave ties into the wider employer flexibility story aimed to attract and retain talent, alongside other alternative benefits like offering a mix of home working and the more radical four-day week, Ansell said.
“Because it’s such a tight labour market, companies are having to come up with ways to retain staff and if you’ve got a section of workers in that, say 25- to 40-year-old range, you know a lot of them are looking for those sorts of incentives.”
One company bumping up parental leave provisions for both mums and dads is marketing and advertising multinational Media.Monks.
The company’s human resources lead for Australia and New Zealand, Andrea Theodore, said after comparing norms across the region, Media.Monks had settled on 20 weeks for primary caregivers and 12 weeks for spouses or partners. This is on top of what is legislated for and is at full pay.
The leave plan extends to adoption and doesn’t have to be used all at once.
Theodore said part of the reason for implementing the costly policy was attraction and retention of staff; it was also looking to be a responsible employer.
“In the last 18 months or so we have put more focus on diversity, equity and inclusion as a business and are looking at increasing the balance between genders in all areas of work and work life. This is one initiative that supports that.”
In any creative field, being able to attract and retain diverse talent is essential, Theodore said, and the policy meant the company could attract women into traditionally male-dominated roles like its data and technology practice.
Since its implementation in November last year, 16 people had used the benefit in Australia and New Zealand, with nine being fathers, some in leadership positions. Theodore said this evening up of the leave provisions could play a part in minimising the negative career impacts of taking parental leave experienced by women.
“I think having male leaders role-modelling using parental leave, and talking about carers’ responsibilities using flexibility policies around picking up the kids after work etc, is beneficial to our recruitment practices, inclusivity and other areas of the business.”