Regular readers of this blog – hello Mum, hello Gem – will know that I have a bit of an allergy to PR masquerading as ‘research’, and am not averse to poking fun at the law firms, recruitment agencies and even charities unashamed to grab a media headline or two with an eye-catching but wholly bogus statistic. But today I came across an example of this disreputable genre with a comedic value that puts it in a class of its own.
“Shared parental leave: Most fathers in the UK aren’t taking up the chance” was the plain-speaking headline above an article by the evidently statistically illiterate Radhika Sanghani in today’s Telegraph online. As Ms Sanghani explains:
Just two per cent of British companies have seen a significant uptake of shared parental leave since the new law came into effect in April. Previously only mothers could take a year’s worth of maternity leave while fathers were entitled to two weeks, but now both parents can share up to 50 weeks of leave. The change in law was praised by parents in April when it came in but so far few have made use of it.
Out of 70 companies polled, only a handful said many of their employees had taken advantage of the new law, though 38 per cent said they’d seen interest and momentum was building.
Seventy employers! Out of 1.2 million. Who could possibly have put together such an unimpressively sized and no doubt randomly selected survey sample? Step forward ‘family friendly working’ consultancy My Family Care and law firm Hogan Lovells, who jointly conducted the ‘research study’ but, strangely, don’t appear to have yet seen any reason to put their research report (and its explanation of their methodology) on their websites. So we can only guess how their sample of 70 firms is representative of all “British companies”.
Meanwhile, the HR specialists at Personnel Today were taking a similar line on the, er, ‘research’. And, over at the Daily Mail, the ‘research’ was seen as sufficiently robust and revealing to go with the headline “New dads don’t want shared parental leave”. Because men not taking shared parental leave simply isn’t exciting enough for the Daily Mail. It has to be because they don’t want it. Well, why would they?
But we do at least have the Mail’s business reporter, Rosie Taylor, to thank for revealing the ‘research’ data from some of the 70 surveyed employers that we would no doubt see in the My Family Care and Hogan Lovells research report, if only they had thought to actually publish it. So we learn from Ms Taylor, for example, that Citi bank “which has 10,000 UK employees, saw 11 fathers apply for shared parental leave within the last six months, taking an average of 16 weeks off.” And professional services company Accenture said “22 employees out of a work force of 10,000 had asked for an average of between 18 to 20 weeks off under the scheme.”
And you have to agree: those figures are truly pathetic. Just 22 – and a paltry 11! – applications in six whole months. Out of 10,000 employees! What on earth were Vince Cable and Jo Swinson thinking, introducing such an unwanted scheme?
But … hang on. How many applications for shared parental leave could a company like Accenture expect to receive in a six-month period? Well, according to the Equality & Human Rights Commission, just under 500,000 working women give birth every year, and there are 14 million women in the UK labour force. So, assuming that half of Accenture’s 10,000 employees are female, the company could expect about 180 employees to go on maternity leave every year – or about 90 every six months.
Which means that, over the last six months – the first six months of the new scheme – about one in four (25%) of Accenture’s qualifying male employees took up their right to shared parental leave. Yet the Coalition Government’s own prediction was a take-up rate of just 2-8%. Jo Swinson would have given her right arm for a take-up rate of 25% within six months of the law coming into force. Far from ‘not wanting’ shared parental leave, men are practically fighting each other to take some.
Somehow, the crack researchers at My Family Care and Hogan Lovells failed to spot that they had stumbled upon a policy goldmine (yes, I’m joking). But it’s too late now. The Daily Mail has been briefed by the My Family Care and Hogan Lovells press officers, and it has spoken: MEN. DON’T. WANT. SHARED PARENTAL LEAVE.