March 30, 2023

Parental Leave as Allyship

Caring duties traditionally falling to women is frequently cited as a barrier to equality but equal parental leave policies provide the perfect opportunity for levelling. Joeli Brearley, Founder of Pregnant then Screwed and campaigner, states that a woman's earnings rise by 7% for every month of parental leave taken by their husband. Additionally, the pay gap among mothers gets worse consistently for 12 years after the first child is born, by which point women receive 33% less pay per hour than men, according to research by the Institute for Fiscal Studies.

In 2019, Zurich launched a new package of family friendly policies, including equalising its approach to maternity, paternity and adoption leave. The insurer is also an established advocate of flexible working for all employees, including parents, so that everyone can play an active role in raising their families.

These measures have been designed to create a supportive, gender neutral and embedded flexible working culture which is part of a series of initiatives we have implemented in recent years to address pay gaps.  Since the launch of the policy, we’ve seen increased take up with over 73% of new dads taking the full 16 weeks paid paternity leave in the last year. It’s only by making it possible for both parents to share the responsibility and care for their children, we can we support women both at home and in their careers.”  

Steve Collinson, Chief HR Officer

Derek McWhinnie, Head of Customer Care at Zurich, is one parent who’s benefitted from the policy. Derek lives near Southampton with wife Michelle and their four children – Harry 7, Ava 5, Elise 4 and Rory who’s now 2. He has a busy day job covering several things in the business that are all customer focused, such as complaints handling, tNPS, customer communications, customer wellbeing and support.

Rory was born in March 2021 when Derek took an initial two weeks of his paternity leave, plus a week’s holiday.  He then kept the rest of his time until the summer when Harry was off for the summer holidays for the first time, and Ava was getting ready to embark on her own school journey in the September.

Rory was delivered through a caesarean section and Michelle was up on her feet in no time. Derek claims this epitomises the person Michelle is, with a level of strength, determination and love that is unrivalled. Being able to split the paternity leave into two parts meant that Michelle could focus on her recovery as opposed to being in a rush to savour the time together as she had to on previous occasions, safe in the knowledge they would enjoy more time together in the summer.

Derek spent from July through to the end of September with the family preparing for the new routine that would lie ahead. They felt very lucky to have the time together and managed to spend time visiting family in Scotland, and as much time as possible away from home, as they had a lot of building work on the go to make room for the latest arrival. They had days in country parks and at local beaches enjoying family time and trying to keep all four children happy and entertained whilst creating lasting memories, and ones Derek and Michelle are very thankful for.

Derek felt extremely supported by Zurich and his colleagues, and he was able to switch off from work completely during this period, which took a lot of pressure off and made the experience enjoyable for the whole family.

Zurich’s paternity leave package was a huge benefit to Derek, he adds: “It was the first six-week summer holiday we’d experienced together, and I was really pleased to be able to be at home during this time. That might have been daunting for any parent trying to do it alone, Michelle is the most amazing Mum, and I was so grateful that I could give her the support she deserves. The time off helped us to adjust and get into a bit of a routine - as well as managing the building project and little Rory. The time off really helped take some of the stress away from it all."

“But it also worked well when it came to work, being able to split the time up meant we could plan ahead and make sure all bases were covered, allowing me to really switch off. That is thanks to my own manager and my colleagues who were so supportive and picked everything up seamlessly in my absence.”

Having returned to work, Derek continues to work flexibly which allows him to strike the right work life balance which gives everyone what they need. "I get a lot of benefit from working flexibly, I get the best of both worlds. I can support my family’s needs whilst feeling backed by Zurich, this gives me constant energy to do my best on all fronts".

Thank you to Derek and Zurich UK, an ISC Corporate member, for showcasing how uptake of equal parental leave policies can benefit families and championing their importance in equality efforts.

Pregnant then Screw is a UK based charity advocating for women's rights, focusing on the experience of having children. They were instrumental in the recent announcement by the UK government over increased investment into childcare.


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