Paid parental leave: Cultural shift needed to encourage dads to take time off

When it comes to fathers taking up paid parental leave, New Zealand fares "very poorly", according to research.

New Zealand is one of only six OECD countries that do not provide any dedicated father's leave, Victoria University of Wellington PhD student Suzy Morrissey says.

It's no wonder, then, that over the last year around 31,000 new mums took parental leave, compared to only 444 dads.

Gail Pacheco, Professor of Economics at AUT, told Newshub there are a number of reasons why fewer fathers take parental leave, but the gender pay gap plays a huge role.

"There is OECD research that shows that, in order for fathers to take up paternity leave, the payment should equate to at least half their previous earnings.

"Due to the gender pay gap, and the likelihood that the father is earning more, there is less incentive for fathers to take up the leave," Pacheco says.

Morrissey agrees, telling Newshub the gender pay gap means men earn more, on average, making it harder for them to drop to effectively minimum wage on paid parental leave.

Morrissey also believes New Zealand's strong cultural norm that the woman is the carer also contributes to fewer men opting to be the primary caregiver.

"It may be socially challenging for a father to say they are taking PPL [paid parental leave], especially when the policy design allocates it to the woman, so they may be seen to be taking 'her' PPL."

She believes the best way to mitigate this is to introduce a system where there is a period of dedicated partner's leave - that is their own, and a statutory right.

'It's time you will never get back'

For third-time dad Dave Gascoigne, staying home for six months when his youngest was five months old was his "most rewarding job".

"My wife Ness took the first five months off with Monty. I tagged in after that," the head of digital marketing at ANZ told Newshub.

"We had always talked about sharing the time off with our kids, but the stars finally aligned with Monty - it was probably the last chance and we made sure we worked towards it happening."

Gascoigne relished his time at home with three children - Monty, Frida and Georgie.

"It helps you develop a unique and even more special bond with your children. It's time you will never get back," he says.

"Taking the leave strengthens relationships and means there is better balance."

Gascoigne's employer ANZ has a 26-week paid leave policy, a top-up on the Government payment to the primary caregiver to their current salary.

He says, in order to receive the top-up, employers need to receive the Government payment.

"We transferred part of the Government payment from my wife to myself. It was quite challenging, we had to make a lot of phone calls."

Equal leave policy

Gascoigne recently took part in a local campaign to normalise fatherhood in the workplace and encourage conversations between workplaces, men and their families to break down stereotypes.

The Kiwi Dads campaign called for businesses to offer equal access to parental leave.

The campaign, created by Global Women in partnership with Parents at Work and the Embassy of Sweden, featured 13 fathers from across New Zealand who stayed home with their children.

Global Women CEO Siobhan McKenna says advancing diversity, inclusion and equality are fundamental to improving the quality of life for everyone.

"When dads are more equal in the home, mums can be more equal at work, and children benefit from having quality time with both parents," McKenna says.

The campaign called for parental leave policies that are equally available to men and women, flexible in application and actively encouraged and incentivised.

How to fund PPL

Morrissey says a challenge of PPL in New Zealand is that it is financed by the Government.

"That means it faces competition from all other spending options, including schools and hospitals, as well as everything else that the state provides for us."

An alternative, she says, is to fund PPL through a dedicated levy, like a payroll tax.

"This could have merit, as PPL generally means women return to their old job, rather than leaving or changing jobs, so keeping recruitment costs down."

She added that if this scheme funded PPL for partners too, it could help reduce worker stress over a challenging time.

"Both would help a business maintain their productivity," Morrissey says.

"Another option could be to expand ACC so that it covers PPL.

"ACC is the closest we have to a social insurance system, which is how PPL is funded in most other countries," she says.

The conversation around PPL is an important one to have.

Morrissey says reducing the stress of having a baby, through well-paid leave for both parents, would no doubt be a great benefit for Kiwi parents.

"Having healthy and happy children and parents would benefit all Kiwis, as the social and financial costs of ill health and family stress could potentially be reduced," she says.

Subscribe to the Man-Child podcast on Rova, Apple, Google, Spotify, Omny, and wherever you get your podcasts.