Thursday 13 June 2019 7:27 am

This Father’s Day, give the dads in your office a real gift

John Coote is account director at 23red.

A shirt with the word “legend” plastered across the front? A trio of “bad boy” chili sauces? A customisable BBQ branding iron? Father’s Day really is an object exercise in gifting tat.

Such tokens are inconsequential and ephemeral – destined for a cluttered kitchen drawer. Better to get dads something they actually want. Simply, more time with their kids.

I’m one of the lucky ones. When the right to request shared parental leave (SPL) was introduced in 2015, my wife was pregnant with our first child, Federico. Rather than the standard 52 weeks of maternity leave and two for paternity, the change meant that we could share up to 50 weeks between us.

Thankfully, the firm I work for – 23red – is more progressive than most, and encouraged me to take time off.

But I’m an anomaly. Anecdotally, my industry peers don’t take more than the prescribed fortnight. Nationally, the number of parents taking advantage of SPL is tiny. Just 9,200 parents did so in 2018. When one considers that there were 679,106 kids born in the UK last year, this paints a stark picture.

Stigma in the office

Starker still is the stigma attached to “stay-at-home dads”. The notion that men need to play the role of breadwinner certainly seems to contribute to the dearth of uptake. Indeed, HR directors interviewed in 2016 suggested that taking SPL could be “frowned upon or career limiting”… for men.

Outmoded preconceptions of masculinity aren’t the responsibility of businesses (except for, ironically, those in my game – advertising). But highlighting the policy, and being prepared for fathers who want to take extended paternity leave, definitely is.

Alarmingly, almost half of HR professionals admit that they don’t actively promote shared parental leave within their organisation.

Stories about businesses making it difficult or impossible are rife. It’s a crying shame when the benefits are so clear.

Spending quality time with your kids

I can’t imagine having missed Fede’s first birthday, clambering over the obstacles at a soft play in Barbican, or taking him to swimming lessons every Tuesday morning, singing “Old McDonald” while hopping around the shallow end. Although, it has to be said, spending half an hour coaxing him into eating one mouthful of solid food was only a subtle change from some conference calls I’ve been on.

Most important to me, though, was the first day that I was fully in charge, rather than merely supporting his mum. It was slightly terrifying, but being the primary carer, rather than a bit player, allowed me to bond with my son during the most formative part of his life, in a way that many fathers will never experience.

A proper Father’s Day gift

Getting to take a hands-on role in raising Fede was incredibly satisfying and made me reflect on why more new fathers aren’t choosing to take the option. After all, a mounting body of evidence makes clear the benefits of SPL to wider society.

For instance, SPL fundamentally reduces gender pay inequality: when women can go back to work, their careers thrive. Also, families that take SPL are more likely to stay together. And in those that don’t, the father takes a more active role. Kids achieve higher marks at school, are better adjusted, and have greater self-confidence. The list goes on.

The role of fathers in their children’s lives is changing. However, it is still the case that mothers in two-parent families take on responsibility for twice as much of the childcare, and most of the domestic work. It’s archaic, and it means that both kids and fathers miss out.

So this year, after the dog has eaten that miniature drone, why not get your staff a proper Father’s Day gift, and let them know that they have the option of taking SPL?