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Friday 19 September 2014

Not quite a revolution, but paternity leave is at least a start down the Daddy Track

Colette Fitzpatrick

Published 14/03/2014 | 14:05

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Junior Minister Kathleen Lynch. Photo: Tom Burke
Junior Minister Kathleen Lynch.

Heard of the Daddy Track? Of course not. There's no such thing. But the Mammy track? Well, we all know that concept.

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'She's on the Mammy track', generally implies that a working woman who's pregnant or planning to have more children has lost interest in her job or career or promotion; A woman who has opted out of the workplace.

Illegal, unethical, unmentionable, the truth is that many employers view 25 to 40-year-old women as costly to their bottom line.

They believe that you're likely to get pregnant and even if the boss isn't compelled to give you fully paid maternity leave, as is the case in the private sector here, fertile women essentially mean losing cold hard cash.

They disappear for a long period and have to be replaced for possibly a minimum of six months.

Now we know that not physically giving birth to a baby doesn't preclude the need for spending time with a tiny newborn. That's why we have adoptive leave. Surely this enlightened policy paves the way for dads to get paternity leave?

Paternity leave isn't recognised in employment law here. It's at the discretion of employers but generally time off taken following the birth of a child is treated like annual leave.

But Equality Minister Kathleen Lynch said this week that she's examining the possibility of two weeks paternity leave for dads. It won't be taken from maternity leave but some of the mother's leave could be shared, if she elects to do so.

While paid paternity leave may feel like an unexpected holiday for men, the beneficiaries aren't actually dads or even the babies.

It's the mothers, the women who have to 'disappear' for a long period. Now their partners will be away too, albeit for a lesser period, but every bit helps tackle the stigma.

It's not just women that are losing out by the lack of paternity leave, the workplace suffers too.

A World Economic Forum showed that countries with the strongest economies are those that have found ways to help women's careers, narrow the gender pay gap and keep women in and moving up in the workforce after they become mothers.

But perhaps the biggest hurdle to overcome is the mental one. Many men still associate a stigma with taking on a stay at home role.

Sure, today's dads are much more hands on than our fathers were. But it seems like they do a lot of the fun stuff. The park, football games, the beach, bedtime stories.

A lot of the drudgery of parenting is left to mothers. The endless washing, endless picking up of toys, the must-do mind numbing tasks.

Paid paternity leave, where dads are compelled to be at home in the early days and have to take part in repetitive household chores, would be revolutionary.

And if it became law, well then your boss would envisage him with a baby sling and not just you with child bearing hips.

It might only be two weeks of 'daddy leave' but at least Kathleen Lynch is on the right track.

If we adjust our mindset we could have the Daddy track too.

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