Samuel Jackson saw shared parental leave as an opportunity to be a more involved father and husband – and to challenge a few workplace stigmas along the way.
When Samuel Jackson became a dad, work, travel and time seemed to be conspiring to pull him away from his wife and infant son. “When my first son was born I was working out of town and generally away five days a week; it really wasn’t what I had expected fatherhood to be like,” Sam recalls. So, when his second son was born, Sam, who as an Accenture Technology Delivery Lead helps big organisations transform the way they operate, decided it was time to rethink the way his own family worked.
“The second time, I just wanted to spend a lot more time with them, and my wife was also keen to return to work sooner this time round.” Sam had taken three months off after the birth of his first son, Sebastian. However, when he returned to work, he didn’t find the work-life balance he wanted. On longer business trips, he would track how long it was until he could catch his flight home. Even when back home, restricting full-time parenting to weekends, plus the occasional bath time, just wasn’t enough.
By the time his youngest son, Max, came into the picture, he really did want to put first what he considered the most important part of life – family. He decided to walk the talk. Just as he was giving it hard thought, the UK’s Shared Parental Leave, or SPL, legislation was kicking in.
SPL allows parents to share leave after their child’s birth. Mothers can transfer up to 50 weeks of their maternity leave to the father, and also have the flexibility of taking it at the same time, or in alternating blocks of time. Companies are obliged to pay a statutory level of weekly pay. But Accenture offered 32 weeks leave at full pay – a benefit open to either parent. “We were overjoyed because of the fact that not only was I going to be able to do this, but I was going to get paid to do it,” Sam recalls, adding the full-pay benefit sealed his decision to take over the majority of the childcare. In addition to wanting to spend more time with his boys, his wife Chloe’s desire to return to work drove their decision. Neither of them believed the childcare responsibilities should be the mother’s by default. “Women are as entitled to a career as men are,” Sam says.
Too often, taking time off due to pregnancy and childbirth can hurt a woman’s career. Two-thirds of female professionals are likely to enter lower-skilled roles when they return to work after career breaks, according to research by the 30% Club. Another study by the Institute for Fiscal Studies found that returning mothers end up earning a third less than men, as their chances of getting promotions and pay rises are hindered.
Sam, who now co-leads Accent on Family for Accenture Technology, a community that encourages Accenture employees to harmonise their work with their home life, sees policies like SPL as major steps in helping tackle the gender pay gap. Rapid technological changes across the business landscape make it harder for mothers to return to work because they may feel their skills need to be refreshed. And asking for flexible working arrangements can feel difficult.
In the UK, an estimated 54,000 women a year have to leave their job due to maternity, according to the Equality and Human Rights Commission. SPL is designed to help improve the situation, but of the 285,000 couples eligible every year, only 2% take it up, according to the latest UK government statistics.
Sam thinks there are four key steps to getting more families onboard: awareness, fairer pay, encouragement by employers and changing attitudes towards men as child carers. There are still raised eyebrows at the thought of a man doing more than a few hours of childcare per week, he says, adding that speaks volumes about the distance we still have to go to eliminate gender discrimination in the workplace.
"For someone to believe that a man’s ‘rightful place’ is in the office and not looking after children is surely equivalent to believing the reverse for women,” Sam says. “How can women compete with men for boardroom seats when they are expected to bear the entire responsibility for childcare?”
Since returning to work and now a senior manager, Sam has shifted to part-time – working Monday, Tuesday and Thursday every week – so he can continue to share childcare responsibilities and spend time on his hobby – flying light aircraft. All the while, he continues to grow and progress his own career. Like most things, there is no one-size-fits-all approach, he adds. “No one is saying that all dads must take paternity leave and all mums must work. But all families should at least consider and have a conversation around whether it makes more sense for the dad to do some of that domestic work – rather than the automatic presumption that the mother will do it.”
SAM JACKSON’S ADVICE ON SPL AND PART-TIME WORKING
Colleagues will support you.
My peers were supportive, and surprisingly a lot of clients were also excited and enthusiastic about the idea. They told me they wished they had the opportunity to take more parental leave when they had their children. A number of my peers have now also gone off on SPL – I know of five just on my account team.
Put it into perspective, it’s a short time in a long career.
Your career is important, and at Accenture everyone wants to succeed. But my career will hopefully last about 40 years, and taking SPL is such a small part of that time. It’s essentially giving up less than a year to take an opportunity which might only be once in a lifetime.
You can keep up career momentum working part-time.
I’ve moved on from my first senior manager role to bigger and more complex things managing more complex pieces of work, larger teams, more senior clients and all that sort of thing. So, I think those are the normal incremental steps that everyone goes on, on their career journey while they’re working towards the next promotion – and those things do still happen while you’re working part time.
Adjust your role to your time.
Nobody expects that you’ll be able to do a five-day-a-week role in three days a week, so instead I’ve been assigned to roles that are designed for three days a week from the start. And actually, that’s worked quite well. Since I’ve been doing three days a week, I haven’t felt as overstretched.
Your employer benefits too.
I think Accenture benefits from having a more engaged me. I feel like having a more balanced life means I’m fresher, I have more energy, more enthusiasm for work and I genuinely think I’m more productive and get more done in the time I am working because my balance feels a lot better.
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