Progress in gender equality in the UK workplace has been slow in the last decade. In fact, with the cost-of-living crisis forcing more women out of the workforce, we are at risk of moving backwards. Yet, a critical structural barrier is often overlooked—unequal parental leave policies.
In the UK today, we need to improve the status quo for parental leave. Both statutory provisions and employer-enhanced policies provide significantly higher maternity vs. paternity leave provisions, positioning women as the primary caregiver and setting a precedent for long-term imbalances in who works vs. who cares for children.
This trend penalises mothers via lower earnings and slower promotion rates, creating a “leaky bucket” for employers’ female leadership pipeline. Our analysis shows that without equal parental leave, up to 70% of the UK workplace gender pay gap could persist.
Enter equal parental leave: A policy with growing momentum
An increasing number of cross-industry UK companies are addressing gender inequality by introducing equal parental leave policies, under which all parents, regardless of gender, receive the same amount of leave and pay. By providing parents the flexibility and financial support to take extended time off for childcare, employers are alleviating the work vs. care trade-offs that all parents, though disproportionately women, must make.
Since 2016, 33 UK companies have publicly announced a move to an equal parental leave policy, most commonly offering six months of fully paid leave. “First movers” in this regard are Abrdn, Aviva, Bain & Company, Goldman Sachs, John Lewis, Unicef, and Vodafone Group. As this trend continues, we expect this policy will increasingly become “table stakes” for employee benefit packages (Figure 1).
Although the UK is Europe’s second-largest economy, its statutory parental leave provisions are among the least generous