Men should be given father-only parental leave to tackle the “very, very low” take-up rate, experts have told MPs.

Dads who want to be more involved in their children’s lives fear damaging their careers and denting their family’s income if they ask for flexible hours or parental leave, a hearing on working fathers heard.

Experts told parliament’s women and equalities committee inquiry that men should have the right to a period of paid leave allocated only to them to tackle a woefully low take-up rate which resulted in just one in 100 men requesting parental leave in the 12 months after the flagship policy was introduced in April 2015.

“We have to really try to enable and, I think, make fathers take up leave,” said Prof Tina Miller, of Oxford Brookes University.

Clarifying that she believed there should be a non-transferable element to parental leave, she added: “If we are serious about men being involved, it’s the only way.

“Mothers and fathers don’t take decisions about who takes leave from a level playing field – it’s gendered, it’s historically unequal.”

The government has estimated that only 2% to 8% of 285,000 eligible working fathers would take leave in the current system.

This compares with about nine in 10 fathers in Sweden and Norway, where between 80% and 100% of their earnings are replaced while they are on leave.

Duncan Fisher, co-founder of The Family Initiative, told the hearing the current parental leave system was “terrible”.

“It absolutely emphasises the idea that the caring role is the mother’s,” he said.

“The leave is given to the mother and she gives to the guy if she wants. That communicates a really unfortunate message – which is a foundation of gender inequality in our society – that caring is a women’s role.”

He called for women and men to be given separate, but equal, paid leave entitlement – and said the government needed to push a public awareness campaign. “You have to put it out there, get behind it and believe in it,” he said.

Fathers who were as involved in childcare as their partners often faced disparaging remarks and discrimination in the workplace, the inquiry heard.

“You still hear comments if a father is leaving to pick up a child that he is escaping early again, that you would never dream of saying to a woman,” said Edward Davies, from the Centre for Social Justice.

While mothers have had to fight for equal opportunities in the workplace for 50 years, “no one has fought for fathers in quite the same way”, he added.

This chimed with the experience of several Guardian readers. Oli, a former state school teacher, explained that he wanted to take shared parental leave so his self-employed wife could go back to work.

“While my employer said that I could take the leave, they would not pay me the statutory maternity pay, saying I would have to go unpaid … so I went back to work once my paternity leave came to an end,” he said.

David, a marketing manager for an engineering company said: “Although my request for flexible working was granted, I often feel as though management are trying to catch me out and flippant remarks about my being a part-timer are commonplace.”

He added: “I wouldn’t change my time alone with the kids for anything but I do feel it has damaged my long-term prospects at my current job and eventually I think I will need to move on in order to progress. Mothers have faced the same problem for years now.”

Another father based in Edinburgh, but working for an American company, found himself facing a disciplinary hearing for “unacceptable absence” after having to take time off to look after his son who had caught chicken pox, despite offering to work early mornings, evenings and weekends.

“HR dismissed the case but I was told to ensure my son didn’t catch chicken pox again. Incredible!”

Sarah Jackson, CEO of Working Families, said men should have paternity rights from their first day on the job, saying currently they faced “huge inequality … right from the start”.

Most flexible working cases never make it to an employment tribunal, she added, because the compensation was set at a maximum of eight weeks’ pay – a figure that was not worth most employees losing their job for.

“[Employers] look at a woman and they are frightened, they look at a man and they are not,” she said.

The inquiry comes after the 2017 Modern Families Index found that more than half of millennial fathers want to be demoted into a less stressful job in order to be a better parent.

It also warned of a “fatherhood penalty” for men who want to be more involved in the upbringing of their children, with 44% admitting to lying to their employer about family-related responsibilities that “get in the way” of work.

Conservative MP Maria Miller, who chairs the committee, said there were “significant questions about whether culture at work has changed enough” to enable the shared leave policy to be effective.

“We need to find out what we can learn from other countries,” she said.

This article was sourced from http://thealumninews.org