Encouraging men to take parental leave

Andrew and Conor’s stories

Taking parental leave wasn’t something that Andrew Wilson had always intended to do. He didn’t think it would work for his circumstances at home or at work, and his wife was already taking the first 12 months off work after their daughter, Violet, was born. A Human Resources Business Partner at Macquarie, Andrew has recently returned from parental leave after “circumstances both at work and home changed so that it became a viable option for me to take paid leave before Violet was two years old.

“My experience has been amazing but equally I have felt the full range of emotion - from being apprehensive about leaving work, worried about my capability to look after my child and exhausted from the experience - to euphoric about seeing my daughter, Violet, grow and develop.”

This sentiment was echoed by Conor Tierney, a Senior Business Development Manager at Macquarie, who recently returned to work after two months of parental leave with his second child. He too hadn’t planned on taking parental leave, but heard a colleague speak about his experience. “I had heard that a colleague had taken parental leave, so I sought him out to ask about his experience. He couldn’t speak highly enough about it, so after that, I jumped at it. I took three months parental leave with our eldest son, Finnian, and another two months with our second son, Patrick.”

Conor was recently photographed as part of the ‘Aussie Dads’ exhibition by photographer Johan Bävman. The exhibition, aimed at advancing parental leave equality for Australian fathers, was supported by Parents at Work, which wrote on its website that “in Australia, approximately only 1 in 50 fathers take paid parental leave according to OECD [Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development] data.”

Reflecting on why he thinks so few men take up their employers on the paid parental leave schemes, Andrew said “I think there can be many reasons, including financial, professional or cultural. Some men feel ill-equipped to care for their children due to lack of experience. I also think one of the biggest barriers in some organisations is managers not empathising with the request to take parental leave or managing the transition back to work after such a big life change.

“For me these were all very real considerations, but my actual experience from application, to going on leave and then return to work was positive”, he said.

Conor agreed that how colleagues would perceive the situation was something he was nervous about, but said “it turned out to be unfounded as everyone was really supportive. Colleagues were seeking me out when I returned from leave asking for feedback on my experience.” 

When asked about the biggest preconceptions and challenges that they had before taking parental leave, Conor said “in terms of being the ‘primary’ carer, I had some nerves, as I was very much the ‘secondary’ carer for the first nine months of our son’s life. I remember the first Monday morning when my wife went back to work – I was concerned how I’d go. Though, after a few hours I got into the groove and thoroughly enjoyed it.”

Andrew said, “I thought it seemed like such a long period of time where I would have time for myself to fill with other things… how wrong I was!”

“My first five days were the most difficult, but also very rewarding. I had to learn something new each day to manage so many different and challenging situations. My approach to parenting had to grow and it did by using a learning mindset—which is something I have applied coming back into the workplace,” he said.

Andrew said that working in HR he always thought he would take his own advice and believe in the support that the company would provide. Despite this, he also “felt anxious about the decision to take parental leave.” However, he said that “this was balanced by an overwhelming feeling of joy, happiness and excitement about the journey I was about to take. I kept telling myself I will never get the time back and it genuinely felt like the start of something that would stretch and develop me unlike anything else.”

Both agreed that there is more to be done to encourage men to take parental leave. According to Andrew, “we need to normalise the role of parenting for men and women as equal. This will involve the education of a whole generation of managers (especially male) who have not experienced men taking parental leave as the norm.

“I think having male senior managers who take parental leave talk about their experience would help to normalise it, as will training team members to ensure they are aware of the changes someone who has taken parental leave has been through and how they can help and manage that person and the transition back to work,” Andrew said.

Conor echoed that “the more men that take parental leave, the easier it becomes for the next person” and that it will help break down outdated views.

Andrew added, “I feel very supported with my return from parental leave and the flexibility that has been provided. There’s always more to do, but encouraging others to take the opportunity is one of the biggest things I want to focus on. My experience has been extremely positive, and I would like to think that this can become the norm for all fathers wishing to take parental leave.”

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