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How can organisations tackle parental leave bias - visual

How can organisations tackle parental leave bias?

By Neeti Jain, Psychology Consultant

Parental leave entitles new parents to take leave from work to spend time looking after their children. The concept of maternity leave has been making visible progress in recent years and the cultural context around paternity leave is also changing as more and more countries are offering benefits to fathers. Few organisations are also offering “parental bonding leave” and “secondary caregiver leave” for the LGBTQ+ and adoptive parents.

Parental leaves are important – they promote gender equality, provide an opportunity for both parents to take an integral part in their child’s life, and split the responsibility between the parents. Parental leave policy encourages parents irrespective of their gender to take time to understand what childcare truly involves. Recent research supports that parental leave is associated with greater relationship stability among parents as it reduces the burden on a single individual.

Parental leave not only benefits employees but also signals to the market that the company cares about its employees – a value that helps attract diverse talent. An organisation that actively works towards parental leave policy displays care towards employee well-being, reflecting lower employee retention rates. “If you’ve got a happy family at home, then you’ll come to work much happier and be more productive,” says Safety Culture’s CEO, Luke Anear.

Irrespective of the personal and company benefits parental leaves bring to the table, there are several biases attached to it. On top of societal pressures and expectations is that it is only the woman’s role to look after the child and going back to work is not appreciated. These societal pressures reflect in the form of guilt among females to return to work and apprehension among males to apply for parental leave. Often paid parental leaves are looked at as “unfair” by peers, creating fear of rejection and criticism by colleagues.

For instance, more than half the fathers do not take the advantage of all the leave benefits offered to them. Why? Men worry their careers will suffer, they will lose opportunities, and jeopardise their position at work. Men are intimidated to ask for leaves and benefits that are offered because it requires them to push the cultural norm and fear reintegration into the workplace system.

Research studies show that the majority of mothers apply for maternity leave but through the process, face several challenges. We conducted interviews to understand their journey from pre to post-maternity leave. Despite the enthusiasm of having a child, several mothers fear opting for their maternity leave because it requires handing over their responsibilities. This creates a fear of being replaceable. Through the journey of their leave, mothers fear if they are being missed at work? If their team has found a replacement? Or will everything change when they return? Post-leave, majority of mothers experience guilt of not spending time with their child and guilt for not performing well enough. A lower level of confidence due to a break from work and difficulty in transition is visible.

So, how can organisations create an encouraging culture that embraces parental leave?

Implementing parental policy is a vital step that organisations are taking and it’s completely commendable. However, simultaneously, they need to educate the workforce about the importance of parental leaves and how as colleagues, they can be supportive towards new parents. They must:

  1. normalise the concept of parental leave and make it clear that they encourage it. The workforce needs to understand why parental leaves are needed, the role parents play in childcare, and how embracing the leave policy benefits the company.

  2. create transparency around career trajectory and promotions post-leave. They need to assure the parents that the leave does not impact their employment or opportunities.

  3. focus on providing a strong support system for the parents during their parental leave. This can be done by educating family members about the importance of emotional support during the process, educating managers and peers about conducting emotional check-ins, and staying in touch with the parents.

  4. establish formal mechanisms that can help parents reintegrate into the system post-leave. This could entail creating policies and processes dedicated to back-to-work employee transition, training sessions for managers and peers to have a structured approach.

Our return-to-work programme is a stepping stone for those who have been on parental leave and are ready to re-enter. In doing so, we take a holistic approach to achieve transition back to work in a meaningful and effective way. In our programme, we are committed to ensuring the returner feels welcome and supported through the journey. Our design understands the physiological changes, emotional transitions, and switch in the social environment. We’ve curated a design that fosters support, practical assistance, and emotional reassurance pre parental leave, during parental leave, and post parental leave.

To know how we can help you with this programme, contact us at