The conversation about gender stereotypes has been going on for years, yet we still see a multitude of “gender reveal” parties and toy shops are still marketing their wares at different genders. But what WE want to know is how this stereotyping impacts the decisions being made around parental leave. 

What effects do stereotypes growing up – and then in the workplace – have on the uptake of parental leave and what can we do to change the culture, making gender equality a priority?

 Let’s take a look…

Stereotyping starts at a very young age

 Once people find out what you’re having, the stereotyping begins. People assume this means the parents want a wardrobe full of the “gender reveal” colour, matching walls, muslins, teddies etc. 

There’s also a shift in language that isn’t just pronouns – “is he kicking lots? Oh he’ll be on the footie field in no time” or “ooof you’re carrying low/high/wide…he’s going to be trouble!” Signposting that boys are a) naturally adept at sport and b) troublemakers. With girls there’s similar stereotyping – “It’ll be lovely having a girl so you can take her shopping and get your nails done!” 

 So you can see how the stereotyping problem begins in utero…


Where else do we see gender stereotyping?

 I’m sure we’ve all been standing in the clothing aisle of a supermarket at some point and noticed the “boys clothes” section (blues, browns, greens…) and the “girls clothes” (pink, purple, sparkly…) and thought to ourselves, “Why do kids need separate clothes sections?”

 Perhaps you’ve noticed the messaging on the clothes too: unicorns and fairies with phrases like, “Be Kind” or “Believe in yourself” adorn the girls tops whereas the boys t-shirts are plastered with dinosaurs and tractors with “Roar!” and “Dig it” stitched on. 

 Then in the toy section you’ll discover “Boys Colouring Books” and “Girls Bedtime Stories”, obviously in blue and pink. Other toys on show – tools and cars and trucks and Nerf guns for boys; and dolls, princess wands and flower presses for girls. All stereotyped for traditional gender roles.

 Children are taught from a very young age that if they’re a boy they’re allowed to be rough, loud, cheeky, messy, hands on, problem solvers; and if they’re a girl they must be kind, caring, smiley, loving, clean and tidy… 


Can boys play with dolls?

 We’ve discussed this briefly before, but including it here because it is entirely relevant to this piece: We let our boys play with dolls. Do you? 

 Dolls allow children to act out parenting roles, can help them prepare for a new baby sibling, or help them practise being gentle. Dressing the doll and changing or washing the clothes gives the opportunity for practising fine motor skills. These are not gender specific skills! All children gain something. 

Despite these obvious benefits, dolls are still marketed towards girls. They’re in “girls sections” and they’re usually in pink boxes wearing pink clothes. 

Why? Because there’s an assumption by marketing people and society that care work is women’s work. We’ve been conditioned to think that caring for children is more of a woman’s job than a man’s. 


How gender stereotyping plays out in the workplace 

 According to The No Club authors stereotyping is rife in the workplace, with women  shouldering the load of “office housework” and low-value assignments, causing them to miss out on promotions and pay increases. Minute taking, tea making, organising minor tasks such as leaving gifts are nearly always allocated to women. They’re just expected to say yes to these thankless jobs because of traditional gender roles. 

On top of this, burden is often placed on the female partner to collect sick kids from school or nursery. Assumptions are made. If the father takes responsibility there’s sometimes a misogynistic response: “Can’t your wife do that?” even if the mother is the main breadwinner. Men are belittled for wanting to do more caregiving.


Gender stereotyping and parental leave

 Generally in the UK workplace, women are expected to be the ones to take parental leave. Women are – because of the gender pay gap – earning less on average, and therefore many heterosexual couples feel it makes sense for them to take the hit in their careers. This expectation seems to have an impact on the uptake of dads when it comes to parental leave.

 Men who’ve been employed for 6 months continually are entitled to take 2 weeks paternity, but there’s a considerably low uptake of around 35%.  Part of the problem is that the initial two weeks are at a significantly low rate of pay – statutory rate of £148.68 per week. Many men opt to take accrued annual leave or holiday days instead. It is rare for employers to top up the pay. Current government policy also allows dads who qualify (via their partner’s qualification) to take shared leave, yet the rate of uptake is shockingly low at 2%. In other countries, like Sweden, it’s encouraged that men take time off.

 Sadly, we’ve heard of cases where there’s been shaming of the mothers who dare to break from the “norm” and share their leave, returning to work, as if it’s against nature. And we’ve also heard from men who’ve been made to feel “silly” or even “cheeky” for daring to take their fair share of parental leave. 


Why aren’t dads expected to take parental leave?

 Is it because there’s a culture of expectation with dads being in work while the mother takes care of the family and home? The outdated expectations do seem to play a part, as well as the poor pay.

However the Women’s Budget Group explains that – across employment sectors – there’s low awareness of parental leave policy and acknowledges that there is significant complexity in administering it. It’s complicated not only for individuals, but also managers and HR support professionals to navigate. 

So perhaps when new dads approach their employers seeking advice and support they’re met with blank faces or confusion as to why they’d want to take shared leave in the first place.

How can we make a change in the workplace?

Interestingly, many of the dads who do take a more involved role with their children and within the home talk about how they feel they can’t openly discuss this with their clients or at work because of the stigma attached to it. 

We know 80% of dads want more support from their workplace. They want to feel more confident and comfortable making decisions that break stereotypes. We should be supporting men to become caregivers – instead of expecting mothers to do all the labour. 

We talk about equality in the workplace, but if we actually want women to stand a chance of competing in the workplace, we should be prioritising improving parental leave and pay for them. Fatherhood Institute suggests we need a fit-for-purpose statutory system that would give all dads 2 weeks’ paternity leave paid at 90% of salary. 


Gender equality matters in the workplace and in the home. 

 Dads taking greater responsibility for childcare, easing the home burden and enabling women to rejoin the workforce, will contribute to reducing the gender pay gap, but it will also have a huge impact on bonding with their children and benefit society as a whole.

We’d like to see a higher uptake of shared leave and parental leave, but it’s going to take all of us talking about dads as caregivers and breaking the gender stereotypes to make it happen.

Supporting parents at work has an immediate impact on your business. You’ll have happier employees, reduced anxiety, better productivity, reduced absences, better retention, and a more diverse and engaged workforce, ultimately improving your bottom line. Find out more about Parent Promise here.

How employers can support parents by reducing the mental load

How employers can support parents by reducing the mental load

The mental load that employees carry can impact so much, whether that’s their job satisfaction, productivity, or their overall well-being. In fact, the mental load can have a detrimental impact on your employees’ mental health. As an employer, it’s important to support the people working for you to balance the demands of their jobs and other things they may have going on in their lives.

We're interested in learning about your experience of taking paternity and shared parental leave.

We’d love to hear your views on this topic, so we have created a survey to hear about your experience

We’re looking for men who live in the UK who have at least one child or are expecting a child to complete our survey. 

Will you help us by filling in a few questions?