[Part of a series of interviews I’m conducting with other professionals taking Shared Parental Leave]

This week, I caught up with Knight Frank’s Andrew Woodhead at his Baker St offices. We discussed all things Shared Parental Leave.

A lot of what Andrew said resonated with my own thoughts on SPL (and my experience of taking it).

Enjoy folks!



Brief description of family setup:

My wife, Amy, and I have two sons, Rupert who’s 3 1/2 years old and Guy who’s 18 months old… and we are currently expecting our third child! I work full time and my wife works four days per week.

We live in Surbiton, on the Surrey/London border.

Brief description of  your job / partner’s job etc:

I work at Knight Frank as an Associate in the Property and Asset Management team. My wife works at Aviva in the Real Estate Services team putting in place policies and best practice to ensure the Aviva properties are best managed.

How did you how did you structure your Shared Parental Leave?

I took SPL with my second child earlier this year, starting at the Christmas break and coming back to work on 1st April. At the time, my wife worked at JLL, where she had 20 weeks full pay and 20 weeks half pay as an Associate Director and she took 7 months off in total. When returning to work, my wife joined Aviva where she had been on a secondment before going on maternity leave.


Did your employer provide enhanced pay for your Shared Parental Leave?

By way of background, the Knight Frank SPL policy is structured where time must be spent when your partner returns to work, so for me the available shared parental leave started when my wife returned to work, after 7 months. The pay is enhanced and Knight Frank offer 3 months full pay, which I used.

Did you feel that shared parental leave was encouraged informally within your firm and did you feel supported by colleagues / managers in taking SPL? 

In all fairness, no one had mentioned SPL to me before I started looking into it. I think certainly SPL was encouraged to a degree but equally SPL wasn’t heavily promoted internally so I had to take active steps to find out about it.

As soon as my managers and colleagues were aware that I wanted to take SPL, there was certainly a lot of support from colleagues. My colleagues appreciate that society is changing and that, with both parents often working, SPL is a really important development.

My managers certainly were happy, but I think they were probably more focused on the period that I was off and how my work was going to be picked up and by whom. There was a big factor in ensuring service levels to clients wouldn’t drop for the period I was away.

At the time that you took SPL, who else at your firm had taken it? 

No one had taken SPL in my team.

In the company there had been some people before me; I learned about these people once I’d started talking to people at work about my intention to take SPL.

Though numbers who had taken SPL were probably relatively small, and I didn't know anyone at the company that had taken SPL, once I scratched the surface there were others out there.

How was your return to work; was it daunting? 

I wouldn’t say daunting… there was some sadness in that my SPL was coming to an end. I would have liked to have spent longer with my boys.

Two colleagues had picked up my work in my absence, who did a great job, so following a handover it was essentially back to work as normal.

My clients were all very supportive upon my return, and indeed before I went.  Whoever I spoke with, be it clients or colleagues there were generally two camps, one camp who I could see were not that interested and others who were a bit jealous that the opportunity for them to take SPL was not available when they had children.

I think, actually, Knight Frank probably doesn't realise just how positive an impression having a good SPL policy (and me taking advantage of it) has had on the clients I engage with.

On the basis that it is well structured and there is support in place to arrange cover for when people are off, clients and businesses want to partner with companies of similar values to theirs and this is a clear demonstration of a good, progressive policy.

Have you inspired others at Knight Frank to take SPL?

Well, I hope so!

I've certainly been quite vocal to my team about my enjoyment of it. With Knight’s Frank’s policy (3 months full pay), in normal circumstances, I wouldn't understand why any father wouldn’t take it. That said, it clearly depends on the family dynamic: who's the higher earner; does the mum want to take the full 12 months regardless? But for my wife and I, where my wife had returned to work, it was a no-brainer and I’ve been championing our approach to colleagues.

Has the uptake helped a change of attitude towards SPL within Knight Frank?

I think certainly SPL is coming on the radar for more people - not least because I’ve been telling everyone in our department about it!

Knight Frank has been going through a resetting of internal policies and benefits, so there's been an exercise of looking at what benefits we offer and whether employees are actually using them. It was interesting to see policies such as the season ticket loan, pension contributions, private medical get attention from colleagues but almost no one recognised the SPL policy. My view is Knight Frank should be championing its SPL policy quite actively. A good SPL policy is a differentiator from a recruitment and staff retention perspective.

Are you proud of your company's SPL policy and do you talk positively about it to people outside your company?

I am proud of the policy. I think it is a good policy and for a company that people might consider a bit stiff, it really isn’t that culture anymore, it feels friendly and progressive.

It is also good for employees’ family dynamics and society more generally.

I speak with all my friends about it and they all know I’ve taken it. I think a lot of friends would look to do the same should their circumstances allow, i.e. having a willing partner and having an enhanced SPL pay policy available.

My pier group are more aware that SPL policies are out there and they see them as key work benefit. Nowadays it is probably 50/50 as to whether the woman or man earns more than the other in a relationship. I have friends where the woman earns more than the man. Having a good SPL policy provides much more flexibility for a couple in this situation.

If moving job, would a prospective different employers’ parental leave policy affect your decision about moving company?

It wouldn’t now as we are already expecting our third child. However, if I was younger it would be something that I would think about - it would be a consideration for me.

Equally, in my current position, it's certainly been a factor knowing that, if I stay, then I’ve got an excellent SPL policy to look forward to.

So, even for someone in my position, it's a factor in staff retention.

Your SPL / Fun stuff

Tell me about a typical day on Shared Parental Leave for you?

I was off with the two boys, at that time Rupert was coming up to 3 years old (so very active by that stage) and Guy was 7 or 8 months old.

The trick was always to stay active - there’d often be a morning coffee and perhaps a walk by the river. We would often go into Kingston, which is near to where we live. There would often be a park involved as well.

Our youngest was weaning, so I was also trying to deal with introducing new foods whilst trying to stay clean was always an issue!

What was nice about the time I spent off was that, whilst my wife had returned to work, she only worked four days per week – not Fridays, so we had a three day weekend every week. We spent most Fridays doing something in London which we might not ordinarily do, so we went to a plethora of museums, went to see the changing of the guard, etc.

I didn't feel like I stopped for three months and just found it all so exciting!

Do you do any baby classes?

We tried one sing-along type class local to us - I went with my sister-in-law and her youngest child.

To be honest - from that experience, I wasn’t sold on the baby groups! Our eldest enjoyed it but it felt like a lot of effort to structure my morning around a particular time for the class, which essentially turned out to be 99% women with small babies in a school classroom - and I was there trying to manage two kids! I didn’t really see the benefit.

I think the boys had more fun and more engagement from just doing our own thing.

In terms of parenting, was there anything that you felt, as a Dad, you couldn't do? Or vice versa?

I don't think so.

I felt no shame in the duties that I was doing; I thought it was fantastic.

If there was ever a coffee shop that didn't have a changing facility (or the baby change was only in the women’s loos) I wouldn't feel bad about it - I just got on with it.

After your SPL, did you feel more confident about your own childcare abilities, even given you took SPL with your second child?

Absolutely, and my wife would probably agree.

Just getting the boys out to go to the park takes a lot of corralling and effort... and making sure you've got all the various bits and bobs - nappies, toys, changes of clothes etc.

From the perspective of understanding and helping with the kids, I think my wife would probably say that it helped me.

Can you see any reason, other than financial impact, why a dad shouldn't take Shared Parental Leave?


However, having financial support makes it much easier. No one wants to feel that they are losing out when it’s not necessarily the norm in their company and naturally might have concerns about promotions and progression but society has moved on and in not taking the opportunity, should you family dynamic allow for it, is a no brainer.

For me an enhanced SPL package signifies the company is supportive and is encouraging SPL. I would be nervous if I was in a company without an enhanced SPL package but equally society has moved on. Personally, I’d take SPL again whether it was paid or not because the opportunity to spend 3 months with my boys is just too great to miss.

Also, 3 months in the grand scheme of things is nothing.

Though I would say, If I was taking 3 months unpaid, immediately after the child was born, I might question how much I would get out of it. But by taking leave in the later months, I could be the primary caregiver and my wife was able to return to work where there would potentially be the costs of saving on childcare / nursery costs so that would give more weight to taking leave whether it was paid or not.

What would your top tip be for new Dads?

Embrace it! Your kids will be fine - for example, if you go out and forget things, it’s unlikely to major, your kids will be fine and next time you’ll be better prepared. Everyone is learning!

Wider issues

Why do you think take-up of Shared Parental Leave is so small?

I suspect it's probably because most companies are not offering enhanced pay; I think that's probably the main factor.

Enhanced pay makes the decision to take SPL so much easier and it signifies that the company appreciates SPL and is an employer with current/ considered values for its staff.

Having said that, I think for people of my age having children, there’s a large chance that both parents are working and there's a 50/50 chance as to whether the female or the male is the higher earner; it isn’t the position anymore that there is an obvious primary child carer. Also, women are wanting to go back to work and keep their careers going whilst Dads take over some of the childcare duties - SPL helps them do this.

Would it be helpful to have a defined period of leave for only the Dad?

It’s probably, again, down to the pay that would be on offer. The statutory maternity available isn’t great so, even if there were to be a more structured paternity leave period but men would only receive statutory pay, that wouldn’t be a big help.

Quickfire qs:

What is the longest you've ever looked after your children on your own?

A day and a night… 36 hours… a day, a sleep and another day... by that stage it's kind of, you know, call in the cavalry!

Worst childcare task?

Trying to introduce some kind of discipline is quite difficult!

Best childcare task?

Just anything with the two boys when they're both smiling - I could be doing anything - it's just amazing.

In your view, who would make the better Dad:

Jeremy Corbyn or Boris Johnson?

Oh, definitely Boris Johnson!

Prince Harry or Prince William?

I think, again, it’s got to be Prince Harry, I think William’s probably a bit stiff!

Jonny Wilkinson or David Beckham?

Jonny Wilkinson.

Finally, would you recommend SPL to other dads?



© Joe Young /