At our International Women's Day conference, we heard from Aviva who have launched a group-wide policy to offer men and women equal parental leave. Parents employed by Aviva will be eligible to the same amount of paid and unpaid time off, regardless of gender. We at Fathers Network Scotland are campaigning for an individual right to equal parent leave for both mums and dads, so we were keen to hear from a father who has experienced this. Matthew Kennedy is an Aviva employee from Glasgow and we asked him about his six months' paid parental leave.
How did you first come to find out about this opportunity with Aviva, to have 26 weeks of paid parental leave?
Everyone was just sitting in the office one day. It was a Thursday and we got an email out from HR and the headline was, "Aviva's New Parental Leave Policy". I just thought it would be some minor change, you know, maybe rejigging it a bit. I opened it up to find it was quite a radical change: Six months equal pay for both men and women. There was no consultation or anything with the staff. Just out of the blue, this amazing paternity leave change. That's how we found out about it.
So was your wife already expecting?
That was on the Thursday we go the email. My wife was due her first scan the next Wednesday. So it was really good timing actually. People seemed to think it was an amazing coincidence and I planned it. I hadn't, it was just timing that happened to work out very nicely.
So what was your initial reaction when you heard about it?
My initial reaction was, "I'm not reading that right, surely!". I started scouring the page and the document thinking, surely it must be shared, there's some drop-off somewhere, or you've got to sacrifice this or that? That was my initial reaction. My second reaction was actually thinking about six months. Why won't I take it? What are the reasons not to do it? Obviously I came up with a very short list of reasons not to do it, because I did take it.
And what was your wife's reaction to it?
She didn't believe me at first. Obviously I get home and say, "We've got a new parental leave policy, you get six months fully paid." She's like, "Stop joking about, what has actually changed?" Once she actually believed me, she was very enthusiastic about it: "That's great, you'll be able to be at home for six months. You'll be able to help out. Spend time with the baby. Fantastic."
How easy (or complicated) was it, to organise it all?
Very easy actually. All you do is sit down with your manager, there's a parental leave form within which you need to put your start date (which is when you want to leave) and the end date (so when you're scheduled to come back), send it off to HR, and they'll do the rest. Then about two weeks before you leave, you'll get your schedule of payments for your salary to go in. And that is it. Nice and simple. No barriers.
So how was your six months' parental leave?
It felt like absolutely ages. Obviously, six months in the abstract is one thing, but actually being there day-to-day, being a dad, took up loads of time. Despite what some of my colleagues might think, it wasn't a six month holiday I can assure you. It was a long process of doing everything that needs to be done. Changing nappies, feeding, dealing with the baby waking up in the middle of the night, everything like that. That was six months of just being a dad. No work at all. It was an amazing experience.
Do you feel it has benefited your relationship with your son, having those initial six months together?
Yes, absolutely. When I walk in now, his face lights up. He's very happy to see me. The only thing was, when I did leave to go back to work during the first week or so, he was a bit unhappy. Thinking, where is dad? He's normally here all of the time. Why isn't he here? So that kind of tells me that for the six months I was there, it was noticed that mum and dad are there together, it's not just mum. Both parents are there for me. And for me, waking up every day and seeing your son: Fantastic.
We at Fathers Network Scotland have been working to create a Scotland where mums and dads each have their own individual right to equal parental leave. How do you think this would benefit dads?
I think the benefits would be equality. Equal parentage. I've talked to people you haven't had that advantage when they became parents. If you're lying in bed in the middle of the night and the baby starts screaming, who gets up? Well if dad's working in the morning and mum isn't, there's a pressure there that she's got to deal with it. If dad comes home at night and is a bit tired from working, is he going to deal with a screaming baby? If you're off work for six months, there are absolutely no excuses. You've got to get your hands dirty if you're a dad and it will be to your advantage. Equality means you'll be equal parents, which is what it should be.
Research shows that sometimes parents are embarrassed about asking for time off to parent, especially if there isn't a culture of doing that within their organisation. They may have been met by negative comments. What are your thoughts about that?
Any negativity will be vastly outweighed by the benefit you get from it. Spending the first six months with your child will be the most challenging but also the most rewarding thing that you've ever done. You won't regret it.
You can watch more content from our International Women's Day event about parental leave here: