International Men’s Day - should employers be doing anything special for their male staff?
19 November 2018
International Men’s Day is a good opportunity to consider the particular issues faced by men and how employers can support their male staff.
The United Kingdom has a gender pay gap of 17.9%. It was reported in March that there are more Daves and Steves running FTSE100 companies than women. Only 32% of MPs and 24% of Court of Appeal judges are female. In nearly 300 years of prime ministers, just two have been women.
Notwithstanding this, there are specific issues which affect men in the workplace and it is worth considering how employers can address these so as to develop and maintain a supportive environment for everyone.
No time to care
The parental care system in the UK makes it hard for a man who wants to look after his children to do so. Men whose partners have given birth to a baby are entitled to just two weeks’ paternity leave, which is arguably insufficient time for most fathers to bond with a baby - and far less than the 52 weeks to which a woman who has given birth is entitled.
The shared parental leave (“SPL”) regime in theory allows men greater scope to share childcare responsibilities with their partner, but in many cases a man’s use of his SPL entitlement comes at the cost of a woman’s maternity entitlement. For a man to take SPL, the other parent must curtail her maternity or adoption leave and either return to work or move onto the SPL regime herself - a difficult choice for many child-rearing couples.
While many employers enhance maternity pay to a more generous level than the statutory minimum, fewer do the same with shared parental pay (“SPP”). Earlier this year, the Employment Appeal Tribunal decided that it was not direct sex discrimination to enhance maternity pay but not SPP. The upshot is that couples risk losing out on more generous maternity pay and reverting to the statutory minimum SPP in order for men to take SPL. Moreover, because men tend to be the higher earners in mixed-sex couples, it often does not make financial sense for a man to take any SPL at all.
Perhaps unsurprisingly, therefore, the take-up of SPL has been extremely low (generally estimated to be just 2% of eligible couples in the UK). As a result, the Government has this year invested £1.5 million in its Share the Joy campaign, encouraging parents to take up their SPL rights.
Some employers do choose to match SPL pay with their enhanced maternity pay. For example, Arriva reported last year that all employees will receive 26 weeks’ leave on full pay following the arrival of a new child. At Lewis Silkin, we have similarly enhanced SPP. International Men’s Day provides an opportunity for businesses to rethink how their family leave policies work for men (and their partners).
To understand the potential impact, employers could survey staff to ascertain what the likely uptake might be if improved rights were offered. Another possibility is to establish SPL “ambassadors” who can share their experiences of taking extended leave and coming back to work. Employers should consider enhancing SPP to match enhanced maternity pay, if they do not already do so.
If men were granted more generous parental rights, they would be likely to take them – as shown by countries such as Sweden and Iceland which set aside leave specifically for fathers. Society would become more accustomed to both men and women taking substantial periods of time away from work. Systems and workplaces would adapt to the impact of childcare becoming gender-normalised, with the knock-on effect that women would benefit. Perhaps counterintuitively, smashing the patriarchy may necessitate enhancing and protecting men’s parental rights.
Studies have shown that women are much more likely than men to seek mental health support. No doubt this is part of the reason why men are around three times more likely to be victims of suicide, according to the latest ONS statistics.
For employers, mental health should be as important a priority in a wellbeing strategy as physical health. Just as someone suffering from flu is unlikely to be the most productive employee, someone with a mental health problem will generally be less proactive and efficient. It makes business sense for employers to acknowledge this, quite apart from this being an aspect of the duty of care they owe towards their employees.
Organisations should think about their mental health strategy and ensure that appropriate support is in place and properly publicised, such as an anonymous employee assistance programme. They could also think about identifying visible mental health role models to provide inspiration and a lead for other staff. While these should come from across the entire organisation, they should include men and senior figures. If mental health can be understood in the same way as physical health, fewer staff will be disinclined to seek support.
International Men’s Day - although controversial compared to its sister International Women’s Day (8 March) - exists to highlight problems that fall disproportionately on men and which often receive insufficient attention.
The promotion of equal opportunities for men and women is a feminist principle, extending to working against injustices suffered by men – especially where these in turn impact on women. Indeed, supporting International Men’s Day is in everybody’s interests.