Birkett and Forbes are the first academics in the UK to systematically look into the reasons for the low take up of Shared Parental Leave (SPL) using a mixed methods approach and to design interventions for improving take up at both the organisation and government level. They have used ESRC IAA funding at the University of Birmingham to support their project on SPL. The broader aims of this work are to influence government policy around SPL to help increase take up of this and related family-friendly policies and increase opportunities for parents to share childcare responsibilities in the first year after birth or adoption leading to improved outcomes for families, the careers of mothers and outcomes for children. In 2018, they received IAA@UoB funding through the User Engagement Fund to organise a workshop with key stakeholders at Portcullis House in Westminster. This workshop presented the initial research of the Equal Parenting Project. Maria Miller MP, Chair of the Women and Equalities Select Committee, chaired it. The outcome of this event was a strong network of MPs, SME’s, Civil servants, and NGO’s. At this workshop, a need was identified for a practical toolkit for employers to better support fathers in the workplace which could be tailored for large organisations and SMEs in order to break down various barriers fathers face which had been identified in the work of Forbes and Birkett. The Toolkit needed to be easily accessible, practical and help to improve communication of, and access to, family-friendly policies for fathers. Birkett and Forbes subsequently applied to the IAA urgency fund in 2019 to support work to develop this toolkit. The toolkit was launched to an audience of MPs, policy makers, NGOs and industry leaders in March 2020 at Portcullis House.
In the video of the launch (see link below), senior representatives from AVIVA, Nationwide, and KPMG speak to the importance of this toolkit for informing organisational practice and ultimately supporting fathers in the workplace. For example, the People Experience Lead at Nationwide described how they have already increased paternity leave from two weeks to six weeks as a result of working with Forbes and Birkett. Moreover, the Head of People at KPMG described the toolkit as ‘bringing together brilliant new ideas and current best practice in one easy to access place ... just what you need’. Maria Miller, MP, also describes the toolkit as ‘the sort of practical advice which really makes a difference’.
The IAA’s continued support has allowed this project to substantially develop its networks through the organisation and hosting of an essential workshop and the launch of a toolkit for businesses. RA support for the toolkit development has been vital to making sure that the toolkit was produced in a timely fashion and that it is accessible for the desired audience, thus building upon the momentum of contacts and relationships established by Birkett and Forbes at the London workshop. Further, funding for the filming of the launch has been important to advertising the toolkit in a professional and compelling way to organisations as well as providing evidence of organisational change already brought about through Forbes and Birkett’s work.
Furthermore, the support of the IAA has aided Birkett and Forbes’s excellent work, establishing their reputation in this area. They are now the ‘go to people’ when it comes to SPL and fathers in the workplace as reflected by the fact that they recently acted as special academic advisors for BEIS on the update of the 2019 Maternity and Paternity Rights Survey and the 2019/20 review of SPL. They were also special advisors on the BITC Equal Lives Report in 2018 and completed commissioned research on behalf of the Government Equalities Office in 2019 to understand what motivates organisations to enhance their Shared Parental Pay offering.
Finally, Birkett’s work with the IAA has resulted in her becoming an IAA@UoB impact mentor. She has consequently developed from leading an emerging impact project to being in a position to pass on her substantial impact expertise to a mentee.