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The importance of culture in parental leave

In the 5 years I have been working in insurance, times they are a-changin as long established stereotypes are challenged and slowly broken down. As a white male, I wouldn't normally be associated with examples of that change. However, thanks to the progressive approach of the ABI, I now count myself as part of the evolution.

Over April, I took advantage of the generous shared parental leave offering of the ABI (SPL to any acronym lovers). Shared parental leave - the right to share 50 weeks of leave between parents - was introduced only 4 years ago by the government. Take-up by fathers still appears to be low (2% according to a 2018 report I found), which is largely attributed to a lack of affordability for those who are interested. For me, the decision to take time off to spend with my young daughter was an easy one by virtue of up to six weeks of full pay offered, voluntarily, by the ABI. It is an enlightened family friendly approach.

At a time which is always exhausting, to varying degrees, the ability to switch off properly from work and focus on family is priceless. Yet, during that time, the reaction I received from people was surprisingly revealing in a way I had not expected. It was clear that similar generous periods of paid parental leave are on offer to many of my peers in other industries but those employers are usually of a size, stature and resource that you would expect to be generous - so no major surprise there. What was particularly striking was how few actually take up the opportunity when it is available. 

This seems to be because there is a taboo that exists in many working environments which prevents new parents from benefitting from the wonderful bonding time I was able to enjoy. I put that down to culture and the need for organisations to foster an environment which supports use, and not just supply, of progressive policies. Many offices don't yet seem to have cracked the cultural nut as many (males in particular) feel their colleagues would resent their taking time off to be with their child and that it will likely detrimentally impact their career prospects. The supportive environment needed from their peers and leadership just isn't there.

Where others fail, the ABI gets a thumbs up for the smooth facilitation of my family focused sojourn. This manifested itself in the supportive approach from HR, members of the Executive Team and, most importantly, my line manager and team - they were the ones picking up work in my absence after all. Credit to them all.

During my time on parental leave, I was able to get stuck into nappy changing, 'captaining' bath time and delighting in the ceaseless enjoyment of a smiling four month old who is just starting to properly engage with their surroundings. It also allowed us to get out of London and spend some quality time with grandparents. My daughter was literally changing by the day and being a part of that was an unsurpassable experience. 

Still in its infancy, shared parental leave provides new parents with a wonderful opportunity to take time out with their new arrival. Offering a generous paid period of leave undoubtedly supports take-up but a supportive culture is required too. In my view, the ABI has got both spot on - and should be proud of it too.


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Last updated 21/06/2019