November 07, 2021

Why and how companies can support equal parental leave

Nina Ruddeck
Senior People Operations Manager

Parental leave in Germany is still distributed very unequally between mothers and fathers. According to the German federal statistical office, in 2020 mothers took on average 14.5 months of parental allowance while fathers took only 3.7 months.¹

Parents have the right to receive the classical parental allowance up to 12 months if only one parent takes parental allowance and 14 months if both parents apply for parental allowance. An alternative they can distribute the same amount of parental allowance over 36 months in total with the so called Elterngeld Plus. This is probably the reason why three out of four fathers (72%) applied for two months of parental leave only.

The amount of fathers applying for parental allowance has risen continuously in the past years. However, we see that those who do apply for parental allowance usually stick with the minimum amount of two months. And this amount has basically stayed the same since 2017. So you can say that more and more fathers do apply for parental allowance but not for longer than the legal minimum amount.²

Why is it important to pay attention to equal parental leave at all?

Gender equality is something that all companies should care for and in my opinion, a crucial point when this becomes much more complicated is as soon as children come into play. Already having taken more months of parental leave in the first place, the same picture continues after going back to work. Much more mothers work in part time than fathers (in 2019 only 33,8% of mothers worked in a full-time position compared to 93,6% of fathers³). Working part time still leads to fewer career opportunities leading to fewer women in leadership positions and in the end, to a lower pension. Thus, the reasons to engage in creating an equal parental leave distribution are plentiful.

There are many things that politics should improve in this field. However, companies have a social responsibility as well and on top of that, it is also something that employees appreciate and wish for⁴ and would lead to a bigger employer attractiveness. That’s why it is so important that companies pay attention to who is taking parental leave and take actions in order to support fathers and mothers to take parental leave to an equal amount.

So, what are the reasons that fathers take less parental leave than mothers?

The German Statistical Society evaluated their reasons, and this is what they found.⁵ Not surprisingly, financial reasons were the number one reason for fathers taking less parental leave than mothers. They also found that fathers are more likely to take more parental leave when the mother of the child has a high income. This shows that the gender pay gap is the number one reason for fathers taking less parental leave. The second biggest reason according to this study is that mothers often want to take 12 months of parental leave by themselves. This could be explained by mothers seeing themselves mainly responsible for childcare in their role. Or to them thinking that it is expected from them. This effect is called maternal gatekeeping when mothers prevent fathers from taking parental leave to some extent The third biggest reason for fathers not to take parental leave was that they expected negative consequences for their career. Here, it is interesting to see that fathers apparently still give more importance to consequences on their career than to the mother’s career.

What can companies do to support both parents taking equal parental leave?

1. Show that you appreciate fathers taking parental leave

The very first thing that you should do is to show that you encourage fathers taking parental leave longer than two months. Some companies introduce special paternity leave policies or an internal contact person fathers can talk to plan their paternity leave and time after proactively. In my opinion, the best way is setting a positive example. If central people in the company, maybe even from the C-Level take parental leave and show that it is appreciated and possible, this will make it much easier for other people in the company to follow. Actively communicating that you appreciate fathers taking paternity leave could also be the very first step.

2. Take away the salary argument

As we have seen before, the main reason why some parents make the decision that the mother is taking most part of the parental leave is that men on average still earn a higher salary and, therefore, it brings them into a more difficult financial situation if the father takes a longer parental leave. This issue is wrong on different levels, and you can approach this on different time horizons.

On a longer term, the solution to this problem is obviously pay equality. This topic earns a whole article itself and cannot be solved by your company alone. But every company should try go ahead as a positive example. Probably the fastest move you can make to create salary equality within your company and show that you care for this topic is creating transparency over your salaries. The boldest way here would probably be to making all salaries transparent. But it can also be a solution to just make your salary structure very clear and transparent and regularly analyze if you are on the right track to reducing the gender pay gap. Also, introducing a regular salary cycle, reviewing all salaries at the same time can be a good solution as this can help aligning salaries in a better way across the company.

Something you can do for the short term (especially as you have no control over the salaries in other companies where partners might be working), is topping up the parental allowance above the state maximum of 1.800 Euro. Some companies even do that to the amount of the actual salary, like Spotify who offers every full-time employee 6 months of parental leave at 100% of their salary⁶. As another example, Einhorn pays their employees a salary raise of 400 Euro net per child⁷. In the best case, this eliminates the salary argument in the parental leave discussion but at least it will give parents more flexibility in planning their parental leave.

3. Create flexible working models

Finally, companies should anchor flexible working models within the company. The more normal flexible working models become, from remote working to hybrid working time models, the easier it will be for fathers and mothers to combine family and work. And we know that both men and women are interested in this and that it leads to greater satisfaction. So, get creative and offer your employees different flexibility models.

Since the pandemic the sensibility for these topics has risen in most companies. After many parents struggling a lot with dealing with working from home whilst at the same time home-schooling their children, many companies have become sensitive to becoming more family friendly. Let’s use this momentum to make a real difference in working conditions for both parents, destigmatising fathers taking parental leave and, therefore, facilitating the situation for mothers and fathers to make an open decision on who is taking how much parental leave.

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