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Parental leave reform ‘relies on culture shift’

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Plans to give new mums and dads more flexibility in sharing parental leave could prove to be ineffective unless more is done to tackle current attitudes on gender stereotypes, according to a government minister.

Proposals that are due to come into force in 2015 look set to expand on the current guidelines that allow parents to equally split the amount of time they take off work for childcare purposes into six-month blocks during the first year of their baby’s life.

Instead, the changes will allow them to divide the leave up in any way they see fit – meaning that it could potentially allow mothers to return to work much sooner if they wish.

However, business and equalities minister Jo Swinson has revealed to the Financial Times (FT) that she doesn’t believe the reform will make a difference unless a cultural shift happens to change opinion on the role of mothers.

Ms Swinson said she expected only a small proportion of eligible couples would take advantage of the new legislation when it is introduced, but that it was important that it “started somewhere”.

“One of the big challenges we are up against is the cultural aspect of it, about what society has deemed to be a woman’s role,” she told FT.

“We find women will end up doing a lot more [childcare] than men, and at an age that is far beyond any point at which there’s a biological requirement through breastfeeding.”

However, mobile working could also help women maintain a career while going on maternity leave if they wish to do so, allowing them to continue with their role within a company during this period by working from home.

Previous research conducted by QualitySolicitors found that many women feel cautious about asking for maternity leave as they are unsure about the implications it could have on their future job prospects.