Nearly half of women say that the introduction of shared parental leave will encourage them to have children younger, new research has revealed.
In a study of more than a 1,000 women who haven’t yet had children 48 per cent said the changes will impact when they decide to plan a family.
Eight out of ten women said the changes mean they would look to share their 12 months’ maternity leave with their child’s father with most respondents looking to hand over full time childcare responsibilities to their other half for the final three months.
Nearly a quarter said the option of having their partner take some of the leave would mean they would feel more comfortable retuning to work.
The results revealed that many women felt the previous maternity rules ‘held them back’ and 32 per cent said they had been frustrated by the old rules that allowed little choice with how to best arrange childcare for their baby’s first year.
More than a fifth (27%) of women polled said a fear of falling out of the job market after having children had led them to delay motherhood with 52 per cent saying they had seen other women suffer discrimination in the workplace after having children.
The research was commissioned by employment law specialists Slater and Gordon ahead of the new regulations which will start to apply next week.
The new rules will apply to parents whose babies are due or born on or after 5 April 2015, allowing parents to share leave after a baby is born.
The amount of leave available is calculated using the mother’s 50-week entitlement after two weeks of compulsory leave following the baby’s birth.
If women reduce the amount of time they want to take away from the workplace their partner may opt in to take the remainder.
Employment lawyer at Slater and Gordon, Kiran Daurka, said the new rules were “positive” and were a significant step towards a long-lasting impact for women in the workplace if taken up.
She said: “Women often feel they have to wait until they are established in their careers before taking a period of maternity leave. These new rights are a step towards increasing empowerment and allowing more choice for families."
“These changes are long overdue, but now they are in place I hope they will be welcomed by parents whatever industry they work in.
“When women take a period out of the workplace they often feel they have been left behind. Anything that can combat this should be applauded.
“One of the main challenges will be the cultural and industrial changes required to enable men to share the full leave entitlement with their partner. In other societies, significant change in fathers sharing parental leave has been achieved only after shared parental pay has been significantly increased to levels closer to normal working pay.
Greater access and more flexibility to leave is an important step in the right direction, but more may still be necessary to achieve the major cultural shift we all hope to see.
“Now it is vital that employers and employees both get behind the plans and make sure they know exactly what the new maternity and paternity rules are. Dads need to be made aware of this new right and feel secure that their employer will support them when taking leave.
“Bosses have a very important role to play in promoting and normalising shared parental leave. If they do that successfully then they will see a happier, motivated and more equal workforce and that can only be good for business.”
The research also revealed that women thought the changes would create a happier and more ‘loyal’ workforce.
Just ten per cent thought that women should be the main care provider for the first year of a child’s life and a quarter said that the previous maternity regulations meant women were at a disadvantage when it came to career progression.
Nearly eight out of ten women said the changes would mean they would feel able to return to the workforce quicker.
Only five per cent said they thought the scheme would have no impact whatsoever. The research also showed that a fifth of women were concerned their boss may use the new rules to pressure them to return to work quicker than they would like.
But there is still confusion around the scheme with half of women admitting they don’t fully understand the new rules.
Kiran Daurka, employment lawyer at Slater and Gordon, said: “If it is embraced – which there is every chance it will be if we encourage it – shared parental leave will start to undermine the stigma that still exists around maternity leave.
“This could be a real game changer for women. It will take time for families and businesses to adapt but the new rules are not only a huge breakthrough for women who are the main earner, they are also a great way for businesses to demonstrate that they treat both male and female employees the same should they decide to have a family.”