100 years to gender parity: the case for parenting leave reform

18 December 2019

At the current rate of progress it will take 99.5 years to close the global gender pay gap, according to a new report from The World Economic Forum – which places the UK 21st (down six places since last year) in the world gender equality league table.

According to the WEF’s report, which benchmarked 153 countries on their progress towards gender parity in four dimensions: Economic Participation and Opportunity, Educational Attainment, Health and Survival and Political Empowerment, the UK’s pay gap – 16% – places it 53rd in the world.

Against this backdrop and with Brexit in the offing, the UK Government must make some tough decisions if it wants to achieve a gender-equal workforce. And reform of parenting leave – already sitting in business secretary Andrea Leadsom’s in-tray following a consultation initiated by former Prime Minister Theresa May – would be a very good place to start.

The UK’s current parenting leave system is the most gendered in the world, shouldering mothers with near-total responsibility for looking after babies. It is hardly surprising that as a consequence they suffer a huge ‘motherhood penalty’ in terms of pay and career advancement. Evidence from Scandinavia shows that if fathers are given substantial parental leave (leave specific to them, to look after babies – ideally solo, and paid at a rate where they can afford to take it), their children’s mothers go back to work earlier and the ‘motherhood penalty’ is reduced.

This is the central tenet of our response to the Government’s parenting leave consultation, which you can download below. Our Cash or Carry report provides a useful background summary too.

The Fatherhood Institute has led the way in campaigning for a parenting leave system that supports hands-on involvement by fathers, and thus helps mothers sustain and build successful, well-paid careers. To stay up to date with our policy work, subscribe to our newsletters here.

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