In this week’s column, Kehlan Kirwan looks at proposals to allow paid paternity leave to be given to new fathers and why it makes sense to introduce it
Before the last budget was announced, many organisations sent a wishlist to the Department of Finance in an effort to influence policy. Start-up Ireland had gathered suggestions from its members and those in the start-up community about what policies they want to see change. One of those involved paternity leave.
They suggested that, in order to solve the problem of inequality in the workplace for women, men’s paternity leave should be increased and be paid in order to take the question of having children out of the decision process when women apply for jobs. If you get maternity leave, so does every man in the office when their child is born.
It was a good idea and one on which this Government appears to be working. Many bodies that represent employers and business owners were quick to frown at the proposals and with good cause. In a time when we are falling over ourselves to laud those SMEs that have created successes, we still have not figured out how to stop loading more payments on them.
For all the times we sit atop global competiveness leagues, I wonder how many officials have sat down with businesses and got their opinion on what it’s like to run a small firm in Ireland. I’d imagine not many. However, I will say that this is a move I favour and here’s why.
The elephant in the room is that of equality. We spend a lot of time, more so in the last decade than ever before, talking about equality in our workspaces. Pay gaps, sexual harassment lawsuits, and companies paying for women to freeze their eggs have meant that we can no longer hide from a subject that for so long was swept quietly under the rug.
We are slowly making inroads into ensuring that change is happening. The old stereotypes persist, that women are carers and men are breadwinners, that responsibility rests on the mother to care for their children while men go out and work. It means we seem to have a curious look on our societal face when men are given the right to go home and spend time with their newborn children.
I’m a dad and it is absolutely my belief that society should see me as a father before they see me as a businessman. My responsibility is to my family first and work second. That means that, should I wish, I have the right to go home and take paternity leave.
As a country, we are woefully under prepared when it comes to the allowance of paternity leave. We lag behind a lot of our European neighbours on this and the new legislation should be a step in the right direction. A family unit has a mother and father and the responsibility in raising children rests on both parents. We can no longer put the word ‘equality’ into the public sphere and then insist that some are more equal than others, whether that be pay gap or maternity and paternity leave. So when we create legislation that overlaps on family and business, we should come with the notion that family does come first and business second.
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