Adam Seymour, Senior Associate at Pinsent Masons LLP, talks to me about his Shared Parental Leave #flexibility
[Part of a series of interviews I’m conducting with other professionals taking Shared Parental Leave]
This week, I met up with Adam Seymour, lawyer and Senior Associate at Pinsent Masons, to discuss his experience of taking Shared Parental Leave.
I particularly loved this line: "A good SPL policy not only benefits men in the workplace: encouraging men to take SPL can help get rid of the attitudes that childcare is seen as a 'woman's job' "
Brief description of family setup:
There's me, my wife Katie, George - who is now two years old - and we've also got a new addition called Henry who's four months old.
We live in Bishop’s Stortford in Hertfordshire.
Brief description of your job role etc:
I’m a Senior Associate in the London office of Pinsent Masons LLP. I work full time as a corporate lawyer, which inevitably means long hours at times, but also with some quieter periods between transactions.
Brief description of your partner’s job and role:
Katie is a Senior Associate in the London office of Baker McKenzie; she's also a corporate lawyer doing a similar job to me. She's currently on maternity leave with Henry. In between her two periods of maternity leave, she was working four days a week.
How did you structure your Shared Parental Leave?
... with your first child, George:
George was born in August 2017 and I took the usual two weeks paid paternity leave when George was born. We didn’t really know at that point if, or when, I might take any shared parental leave.
We formulated a plan when we started to think about Katie going back to work. We thought it would be quite nice for me to take some time off at the very end of Katie’s maternity leave and therefore I took 6 weeks shared parental leave over July and August 2018 in the run up to George’s first birthday (which included a two week crossover period with Katie when we went on a family holiday to France).
For our family we thought that approach would work quite well because I'd get some time looking after George on my own.
Also, importantly for us, there would be a bridge between Katie returning to work and George starting nursery; we didn't need to worry about nursery drop-offs or anything like that for the period when I was off work. We figured that that would help Katie ease back into work and would give George a transition period from from having mum around all the time to being in nursery part of the week.
… and with your second child, Henry...
I’m actually switching jobs very soon to join a client that I have worked closely with for many years. Instead of taking SPL (which I was planning on doing in the summer), I’m taking some leave in between jobs. Henry will be 5 months old so at a really lovely age to spend some more time with him.
However, this time around I took a month off when Henry was first born rather than the minimum two weeks (I used 2 weeks paternity leave and 2 weeks annual leave). As Katie had a planned c-section with Henry, we thought it made sense for me to be around longer at the beginning. This was partly for practical reasons as Katie wasn’t able to drive/lift heavy things (like a 2 year old!) straight away and partly to make sure that George had plenty of attention from us to ease him into his new role as a big brother.
We thought a lot about how we would structure the leave this time and although the timing of what would have been SPL has changed because of my new job, we agreed early on that it would be better for us as a family if I had longer off at the beginning given that we would have an energetic toddler to look after as well as a newborn!
The important point I would say to anyone (and to employers) is that it is good to be flexible and be mindful that one structure doesn't necessarily work for all families (or even for different children within the same family given the different pressures of number of children to look after, the ages of those children, and what recovery time from birth is needed).
Did your employer provide enhanced pay for your Shared Parental Leave?
[However, Pinsent Masons have subsequently changed their policy to remove the Birthday Peg - had Adam taken his leave following this change, he would have received half pay for the entire period of his SPL].
Did you feel that Shared Parental Leave was encouraged informally within your employer?
I'd say no it wasn't in the sense that it wasn’t advertised or actively encouraged. However, the flip-side to that was that when I raised taking SPL with colleagues, they were all extremely positive and there was no issue with me taking SPL. This included the Partners in charge of the team who were all really supportive, as were the junior members of the team.
The comments I received were generally in the vein of “I wish we could have done that when we had kids”
Where your client's supportive?
My clients were also very positive and supportive. Many said things like “I wish it was possible for me to do that”.
As far as you were aware, had anyone else in your team/firm taken SPL before you?
As far as I am aware, no one had taken SPL in my team before.
How was your return to work; was it daunting?
I actually found I struggled coming back to work so soon after George was first born (only having 2 weeks paternity leave); I almost felt like I was abandoning the family.
However for the later 6 weeks SPL I took, because I hadn’t been off for months, it wasn’t that strange coming back. I was actually ready to come back as I’d had a great time with George and we’d got him settled into nursery.
Was it easier to take extended leave the second time around?
Yes, definitely. It never really crossed my mind that it would be a problem to take a month off when Henry was born. I just found the relevant form and said “that’s what I am planning on doing”.
As a firm, with people taking sabbaticals, career breaks etc., people taking bigger chunks of time off work is not that uncommon anymore.
Have you inspired others at your firm to take SPL?
I've definitely had people come up to me who are thinking about having children and ask me how it worked. I don’t know if I’ve inspired anyone but certainly people are aware that I took SPL and other people are now taking it too, which is great.
Has the uptake of SPL by other Dads helped a change of attitude towards SPL within your firm?
I haven’t seen a change in attitude - but that’s a positive - Pinsent Masons has generally been supportive of families and they’ve always been proactive in this area.
Does having a good SPL policy give you a better impression of a company?
Yes I think it does. I think trends are definitely changing and it will become increasingly important for organisations to have a good SPL policy in order to attract people to come and work for them.
This isn't just important from the individuals’ perspective, I think SPL is genuinely good for organisations as a whole. Having a decent SPL policy bakes into the organisation’s mentality that looking after a family is a “parent’s job” (rather than traditionally a “mum’s job”), whatever a particular family’s parental structure looks like.
A good SPL policy not only benefits men in the workplace: encouraging men to take SPL can help get rid of the attitudes that childcare is seen as a “woman's job”. You're starting from a position whereby it is recognised that if a person (man or woman) has a child (whether that be through adoption, surrogacy or birth), it is that person’s shared responsibility to look after that child, and that all parents are equally committed to their family and their jobs.
Your SPL / Fun stuff
What was a typical day on SPL like for you?
A typical day was probably quite structured. I'd seen how difficult it is trying to entertain a child all day so I was keen to make sure I had lots of plans.
We’d get up very early and have breakfast with Katie. We’d typically then go out to the park or pop into town. George would have his morning nap, which I tried to do at home, then we’d have some kind of fun activity close to home (e.g. a trip to soft play area or a farm). We’d come back for his afternoon nap, at which point I’d have my lunch and just generally sort the house out! Then later after the nap, we’d maybe go out again or play in the garden.
What activities did you get up to during your SPL? / Did you do any baby classes etc.?
I signed up to a term of “Hartbeeps”, a baby sensory class which George loved (and which is unlike anything you ever come across as a corporate lawyer).
In terms of parenting, was there anything that you felt, as a Dad, you couldn't do?
Not after I had taken SPL, no.
However, before I’d taken SPL, I was quite nervous about taking George out for the day on my own. I remember the first time I took George out for a trip into London at the weekend, I was incredibly nervous and thinking “What if I lose him?” or “What if I haven’t got everything I need?” and I think my wife even probably packed our bags for that trip. After SPL I didn’t have the same fears.
I do remember, however, encountering people who gave me the impression that they thought I didn’t know what I was doing on SPL. I remember once we were walking around the supermarket and George was grumbling as he was pretty bored being in his buggy at the supermarket. I remember getting a patronising comment to the effect that “Daddy doesn’t really know what he is doing without mummy”. I remember thinking, “No, I can cope thank you - I know what I’m doing - my child is just grumbling because he doesn’t like supermarkets. Who can blame him!”
...was there anything that you felt you could do better than your partner?
No there wasn't (especially as she will read this!)
As a result of taking SPL, did you feel more confident about your own childcare abilities?
Absolutely. It was more a confirmation that I could do it, rather than learning how to do it. It got me out of my comfort zone and my confidence grew. I also think George’s confidence in me grew as well!
Can you see any reason, other than financial impact, why a dad shouldn't take Shared Parental Leave?
I never felt that my career would suffer by taking an extended period of time off. However, from speaking to friends I realise that I was very lucky because that is not the same for everyone.
What would your top tip be for new Dads?
If you're not patient already, learn how to be patient!
Be patient with your toddler, your baby and your partner… be patient even with people who come up to you in the supermarket who think you are an incompetent dad…….!
Did SPL make you a better professional?
My family are now the most important thing in my life and so the brutal reality is in some measures it probably has made me prioritise work slightly less than before...
However, I joked about patience before, but having a child pushes you to the limits in this respect and so, as a result, it has helped me focus on those things… so potentially from that perspective, yes.
Why do you think take-up of Shared Parental Leave is so small?
I could spend an hour talking about this... clearly one factor is financial: men tend to be higher earners, in some organisations it would affect a man’s career and some organisations don’t structure the SPL well or offer incentives to take it.
The way the legislation is set up isn’t helpful i.e. it’s the mother’s leave that they have to “give” to their partner. It should be set up so that each parent has an extended chunk of time that they are entitled to take.
It’s not just a pay issue - it’s also a timing issue - a year is not that long for a new mother compared to some other countries, so I can see why some mothers are not keen to “give up” some of their leave.
If a man specifically had x number of months to take that would help perceptions.
What is the longest you've looked after your kid/s on your own?
48 hours, a whole weekend.
Worst childcare task/job?
Best childcare task/job?
Just hanging out and doing nothing in particular with them - laughing together and just doing silly things.
In your view, in each case, who would make the better Dad out of:
- Jeremy Corbyn or Boris Johnson?
Difficult one… Boris
- Prince Harry or Prince William?
- Jerry Springer or Donald Trump?
Finally, would you recommend SPL to other dads?
Absolutely. Just do it if you can… make it work one way or another… just do it!
© Joe Young / www.dadonspl.co.uk