When lawyer Matt Hodgkinson took six and a half months to care for his newborn daughter, he knew he would be one of relatively few fathers to do so. As General Counsel of Arq Group, a 500-person strong tech company, he was taking a step away from a busy senior role which oversaw every legal requirement of the business - including customer, supplier, and partner contracts, M&A, compliance, employment issues, or any litigation which might arise.
1. How did you approach the conversation of paternity leave with your employer? How long was your leave period?
The process was very easy - just spoke with my direct report (the CFO) and human resources. Massive thanks to Arq, everybody was very welcoming and I was treated no different than a female employee.
As the primary carer, my leave period was 12 weeks plus 2 weeks of annual leave which I had accrued. My wife, who is self-employed and didn’t receive any leave, took the first 5 months and 2 weeks off. With additional unpaid leave I took 6 months and 2 weeks off total.
2. Why do you think it's often tough for fathers to ask for longer periods of paternity leave? What kind of social / gender pressures do men face?
I think the problem is twofold:
- Some employers have outdated assumptions about an individual’s seriousness about work if they take parental leave. This impacts on both men and women and employer’s treatment of either sex when they eventually return to work.
- Within relationships, there is still pressure on mum to take extended leave instead of dad. This is perhaps why we don’t see similar hesitancy for other long paid periods off work (long service leave, for example).
The path to making this acceptable is a process of making it easy (by focusing on employers) and then making it popular (by changing outdated assumptions about family dynamics).
The Workplace Gender Equality Agency, which requests information on gender policies via report and whose requirements have been inserted as a prerequisite of some federal government tenders, has been fantastic in pushing change over a range of different businesses. This agency has been fundamental in driving the first step – making the leave easy to take – with the next step is making it popular to take.
3. You’ve been quite active on LinkedIn, sharing your personal experiences of paternity leave, and why you’ve found it so valuable. What made you do this?
I thought it was important to add my voice to the growing number of men who are taking this leave. I think there is a tendency to fear the impact on your career by speaking up, both in the short term and in the long term, but changing people’s minds (making it popular) isn’t going to happen if people don’t see people who are taking the leave.
Studies have shown how dads, mums, children and society all benefit from shared parenting, so it is easy to feel pretty strongly about making it happen.
4. How have you managed work with your colleagues / team while you've been away? Was a paternity leave cover hired?
Fantastic – I trained up my full-time replacement before I left and he has done the job really well. Apart from the occasional check-in I haven’t really had much to do with the team during my time off (which is good because the period has been full on).
5. What have you found most rewarding, and most challenging, about the experience?
The most rewarding has of course been the time with my daughter – instead of being at work, I’ve been able to be the person she walked to for her first steps and the person she spoke some of her first words to. It’s really hard to express in words how amazing the experience was from that perspective.
The most challenging thing has been the days when you are both sick (not yet with covid – fingers crossed), it’s raining, and she won’t sleep, and argh – just parenting.
Of course, as with anything about parenting, it is tough but so worth it.
6. How would you advise other soon-to-be fathers to approach their requests for paternity leave?
Women who wish to have children often proactively consider these factors years in advance when looking for jobs. You should be doing so too. Check your current policy (and have your partner check their policy) and understand how the two policies interact. Whilst I was a primary carer, I understand that many of the law firms and accounting firms are admirably providing significant secondary carer policies as well. Speak with your partner and form a plan.
Most of all, don’t be afraid to take the leave (whether primary or secondary) you receive non-concurrently with your partner. Apart from the potential financial benefits of doing so, learning to parent by yourself is going to help both you and your wife more easily negotiate parenthood in the future, as well as improving your bond with your little one.