Tuesday 16 January 2018

Colette Fiztpatrick: Creating paternity leave is one thing, getting men to take it is another

male hands massaging small baby feet
male hands massaging small baby feet

So Michael Noonan got the post-it from Richard Branson. The Virgin tycoon has already brought in a new policy at Virgin that will see new fathers granted 12 months fully-paid paternity leave.

Up until this week, men here weren't legally entitled to any paternity leave, but will soon be entitled to two weeks.

Yes, there was some leave granted at the discretion of employers, but often leave taken following the birth of a child was treated like annual leave at any other time of the year.

This enlightened part of this week's budget recognises that dads are a critical part of their children's lives. That not physically giving birth to the children doesn't mean you're not vital in those early days to help nurture, bond with and mind tiny newborns who'll become the centre of your universe.

We actually already acknowledge this with our adoptive leave. (You didn't give birth to the child but that doesn't mean spending time with them and being there isn't critical).

We also now know that dads play a vital role in the relationships their sons and daughters form with other men later in life. So a boon to families then.

But media outlets could also have thought about asking the business community about their reaction to the announcement. The research shows that, far from being a cost to a company, paternity leave can boost an economy's bottom line.

A World Economic Forum report showed that countries with the strongest economies are those that have found ways to help women's careers and keep women in and moving up in the workforce after they become mothers.

Obviously, the benefit to working women would be enormous. We'd have the 'daddy track' as well as the 'mammy track'. The boss might see him with a baby sling and not just her with child-bearing hips.

The 'mammy track' has always been a snide putdown. It sort of infers a woman in the workplace who's pregnant or planning to have more children has lost interest in her job or promotion - that mentally she's in a park pushing a swing rather than climbing the career ladder, that fertile women equal losing cash.

Maternity benefit was slashed by €30 in last year's budget to €230 a week, leaving many women wondering was this government telling them not to get pregnant and that their taxes were helping to pay the maternity leave of their colleagues and friends in the public sector.

Perhaps the biggest hurdle for us all to overcome is the mental one - a man-sized mental one. There may be workplace and social pressure on men not to take leave or not to ask for flexi-time, even if they want to.

Many men and women still associate a stigma with men being in the house - sort of "she wears the pants so that reflects badly on me".

It's a sobering thought for employers and government - creating paid paternity leave is only half the battle.

Until we all truly recognise the benefits for us all, the 'daddy track' will be viewed as dimly as the 'mammy track'.

Promoted articles

Entertainment News