Where’s dad? Exploring the low take-up of inclusive parenting policies in the UK

Holly Birkett*, Sarah Forbes

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

7 Citations (Scopus)


This research explores approaches to promoting gender equality in the workplace by highlighting barriers to take-up of statutory policies designed to increase fathers’ involvement in childcare. Specifically, the paper examines why take-up of Shared Parental Leave (SPL), designed to improve gender equality in the workplace and home, has been low in the UK. There is a dearth of academic literature in this area. Extant grey literature suggests financial barriers, maternal gatekeeping and the perceived effects of extended leave on fathers’ careers are key, but fails to explore other barriers, or the variations in take-up. We interviewed 70 men and women entitled to SPL to address these limitations. We identify new barriers, notably poor policy communication at an organizational level,  perceived policy complexity and societal expectations around maternal identities, while also showing how these barriers affect different groups of parents. We find professional couples are most likely to take SPL, particularly where the mother earns more or the father’s company enhances Shared Parental Pay. The complex, multiple barriers parents face also differ, according to the couple’s educational background and the workplace culture. Finally, we offer recommendations for increasing SPL take-up and driving workplace gender equality in the UK and internationally.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)205-224
Number of pages20
JournalPolicy Studies
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - 26 Feb 2019


  • caring
  • childcare
  • family friendly
  • father
  • flexible working
  • gender equality
  • inclusive
  • Parent
  • parental leave

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Political Science and International Relations


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