Over the last 20 years we have seen improvements to family leave - whether that relates to Maternity leave, the introduction of Parental and Shared Parental leave, increases in Adoption rights, time to care for dependants and the expansion of flexible working. This has provided greater options for parents and some improvements for carers.
Over the same time period there has been a change in the shape of families. The “nuclear” family of husband, wife and 2.4 children has been replaced by a wonderful wide array of diverse family structures.
Whilst changes in leave entitlements and family structures have taken place, can the same be said for the diversity of policies and procedures, or are universities reinforcing stereotypes of an outdated nuclear family? If so, is that practice unintentionally inhibiting institutional culture and inclusivity?
How can you assess the extent to which your Family Leave policies and procedures are supporting inclusive cultures? As a first step here are some points to ponder:
1. Are there differing lived experiences?
The majority of HEIs have well-developed support processes for expectant mothers. Often there will be a series of meetings with line managers and/or HR to define support prior to, during and on return from leave. Meetings can be supplemented by guides, checklists and groups.
The same procedures are not usually in place for partners. Whilst information is available to employees on parental leave and shared parental leave, the same detailed discussions don’t commonly take place. The numbers of partners taking parental and shared parental leave remain relatively low estimated at around 1 in 10 fathers taking leave. The government data on the levels of take-up of leave is incomplete and doesn’t provide data on leave if taken by LGBTQ+ partners.
2. Are your family leave policies and procedures published openly so prospective staff and students can view them ahead of deciding to join you?
An April 2019 Mumsnet survey of +1000 parents and prospective parents found that 8 out of 10 are reluctant to ask potential employers about pay and leave for new parents. They feared it would make a job offer less likely. The same survey found that 84% of respondents indicated that employers’ parental leave policies are important to them when applying for or considering applying for a job.
3. What are your visual representations and case studies saying about your diversity and culture?
We know that role models are important for diversity because until people see people like themselves doing well, it’s hard for them to believe they can. Take time to reflect on what images and/or case studies are portraited on your online or printed literature – are these limited or do they portrait the wide range of family structures and diverse individuals?
4. How inclusive are your procedures?
Do these include advice for all parents and carers; LGBTQ+, securely single, lone parents/carers or those who are living apart due to dual careers as well as those with a child/dependent with specific challenges? Is there acknowledgement and support for a range of individuals, or are assumptions made in policies that staff are part of a nuclear family structure?
The choices made by parents and carers will reflect their individual circumstances and there will be many factors that each person will consider. For your university, be sure your policies and procedures are well-communicated, are inclusive and align with your equality, diversity and inclusivity values and aims. This means existing and prospective staff and students can make informed choices about which university they choose to work or study at.
Remember that parents and carers, like all people, are different - so reflect this in your policies, procedures and communications.
If you would like to know more about reviewing and furthering the inclusivity of your family policies and practices, please get in touch.