Where are UK Higher Education Institutions with Shared Parental Leave and Breastfeeding?
Family friendly rights, Equality, Diversity and Inclusion (EDI), seem to be at the top of the agenda in most universities. Key departments in universities responsible for ensuring that the family friendly rights support the needs of working parents are the human resources department, EDI lead and the Athena Swan leads of institutions. The work of these people is to ensure gender equality in the workplace.
However, our research findings on Shared Parental Leave (SPL) and breastfeeding practices in UK Higher Education Institutions suggests that not all universities are committed to supporting staff when it comes to taking SPL and breastfeeding in the workplace, which is a key aspect of inclusivity. Analysing SPL policies of 66 universities that published their policies on the Universitie’s website, we found a mixed picture of clear and understandable policies to policies that were hard to read and understand. We tried to understand the impact of the policies on the staff by collecting data on the number of shared parental leave take up in all the universities for five academic years and interviewing women who had had children on or after the 5th of April 2016 and had been working in UK HEI. From the data collected, we found that not many people are taking up SPL in UK HEI.
The University of University of Manchester had the second highest number of SPL take up, preceded only by Cambridge University. Some of the interviewed participants reported that their employers (line manager and Human Resources department) did not talk to them at any point about shared parental leave, hence they were unaware of its existence, or knew about it from the news or friends, but had no understanding of how it will work for them in practice.
We found that 35 Universities have published information regarding breastfeeding on their websites under a range of pages with the most common ones being policy pages or EDI pages. The resources offered ranges from a mix of dedicated breastfeeding rooms, multi-purpose rooms, and storage space for expressed milk. University College London had the highest number of breastfeeding rooms (total of 32 rooms) and Kings College London had the highest number of dedicated breastfeeding rooms (6). On average, universities have 2 rooms per campus that can be used by breastfeeding mothers. Supporting breastfeeding is multi-faceted and needs to go beyond rest breaks. On a policy level only 33% of our survey participants were aware of a breastfeeding policy in their university and 44 of 49 women had never seen signposting for breastfeeding facilities. Women felt unsupported at work and having to stop breastfeeding was one of the deciding factors for SPL uptake. It was also highlighted by women that the physiological effect of breastfeeding is not considered and that conversations around breastfeeding policies had to be sought out or pushed by them.
The starting point for every university EDI and family friendly policy should be to recognise and support breastfeeding as a ‘natural law’ and support staff with SPL information to allow them make informed decision. All universities are call to act on these key issues.
You can see more on the findings here.
Dr Ernestine Gheyoh Ndzi LLB, LLM, ICSA-Grad, MSc, PhD, FHEA
Senior Lecturer Law | York Business School | York St John University
Anjali Raj Westwood
Associate Lecturer at York St. John University | Co-Founder Maternia Care (Formerly ILove9Months)