Shared parental leave
As my colleague, James has written previously, shared parental leave (SPL) is a great way to achieve more equality not only in the workplace but at home.
We made the decision to share parental leave in 2018 – and it was one of the happiest times in my life. Not only did I get the chance to be part of a crucial period of my daughter’s early development, but it meant my wife could continue her career in the comforting knowledge that her daughter was in safe hands at home.
As we neared the end of my time off, we wanted to continue to share responsibility for raising our daughter. My wife and I rejected the notion that the default position was for me, the man, to work full-time as before; and an expectation on her, the woman, to work less and provide more of the care at home.
This is a personal reflection of my experience over the last few months but is born out of a belief that as a society, we shouldn’t expect to see equality in the boardroom if we don’t see men and women sharing more of the responsibility at home.
Keeping the balance: at work and at home
For us, we wanted to maintain the equality that we had experienced during SPL. Both of us wanted to be a part of our daughter growing up and at the same continue our careers. So, we decided to both work four days a week for the foreseeable future.
Since leaving university and until the latter stages of my wife’s pregnancy, we had both worked full-time. Neither of us knew what a reduced-hours working pattern would be like. What effect would it have on our careers? What would we need to sacrifice? What does a four-day week workload even look like? Nor did we know how long we wanted to do this for. It was going to be an experiment, but one we were sure we wanted to do.
Navigating a four-day week
After my SPL time was up, I briefly returned to work with my previous employer. It was when I joined Gate One that we started this new routine.
Throughout the recruitment process, I’d told Gate One of my intention to work four days. They were encouraging at every stage and really supported the idea that this would be good for me, my wife, and our family. It was only when it came to the job offer, did I begin to understand what this would mean for the company. Having come from a big organisation with many consultants (mainly women) working a reduced number of days, I thought that it wouldn’t be a big deal for me to do something similar.
Gate One, as new and growing consultancy, had never had a consultant work anything other than full-time before – male or female. So this was breaking new ground for them. It opened my eyes to the logistics involved with working four days per week. For example, which four days do I work? Would clients want someone four days per week? Would I be able to contribute to other activities in my new company?
The impact on my client work
I chose to work Monday to Thursday as I thought that would be easiest for prospective clients, and it suited our home balance. Given that consulting is not business as usual or around-the-clock service, I thought of it as an industry that lends itself well to people that want to work less than five days per week.
Now that I now have a couple of four days per week projects under my belt, I can see that this working pattern can be good for clients too. Some clients want people for four days. It helps their budgets stretch further and some clients don’t work full-time themselves.
There has been another unexpected benefit of this working pattern. My weeks are condensed, and long weekends really give me the chance to switch off and focus on my family. By the time Monday rolls around I’m refreshed and ready to throw myself 100% into another productive week.
The cost of shared parenting
A real downside to this pattern is the financial hit that the household takes. Having a baby is already expensive before you start to consider the reduced household income of maternity, paternity, or SPL. Existing income inequality between men and women means that, when it comes to going back to work, it can be hard for some men to work reduced hours as the hit on household income would be too much. Sadly, this serves to exacerbate the problem and further widen the gap if the mother is the one who stays at home to provide more of the care to the child.
Clearly working four days per week means that you have less disposable income. You’re both earning less than before the baby came along (assuming you’re in the same job) and you have the added expense of a tiny person (and their nursery fees!). In our house, we have similar incomes, so the conditions were right for us to share both parenting and working equally.
Enjoying a balanced life
For us, this is about trying to strike the balance across all aspects of our lives – family, work, financial, personal etc. It gives us both the opportunity to gain satisfaction through mastery and purpose at work, plays an important role in raising our daughter, and creates space to pursue everything else life has to offer – seeing friends, playing sport; whatever it is that makes us feel human, rather than just parents or employees.
This balance works great for us now, but we’ve only got one child, things may change if or when number two arrives.