Andrew Wilson is an Associate Director HR supporting Macquarie’s Banking and Financial Services division. He has recently returned from paid parental leave.
Was taking parental leave something you had always intended to do?
No it wasn’t, and even as recently as last year I didn’t feel it would work for my wife and I and she wanted to take the first 12 months to look after our child. However, circumstances both at work and home changed so that it became a viable option for me to take paid leave before Violet was 2 years old. From that point it was about challenging my own mindset and in some ways a fixed way of thinking that had been set for some time.
What were the biggest preconceptions you had and how did that match the reality?
I thought it seemed like such a long period of time where I would have time for myself to fill with other things… how wrong I was! I have read many articles on this topic but I found that photographer Johan Bävman’s words resonated most strongly in his work with the ‘Swedish Dads’ project; “The photos you usually see on TV and in magazines are of cheerful dads in a playground with their children, but that picture did not match what it was like for me, as a dad. Parenting is so much more than the happy times. It’s also very hard work.”
Why do you think that so few men still take up their employers on the paid parental leave schemes?
I think there can be many reasons, including financial, professional or cultural. Some men feel ill-equipped to care for their children due to lack of experience. I also think one of the biggest barriers in some organisations is managers not empathising with the request to take parental leave, or managing the transition back to work after such a big life change.
For me these were all very real considerations but my actual experience from application, to going on leave and then return to work was positive.
What were the biggest challenges before, during and after?
My experience has been amazing but equally I have felt the full range of emotion – from being apprehensive about leaving work, worried about my capability to look after my child and exhausted from the experience – to euphoric about seeing my daughter, Violet, grow and develop.
I work in HR and I have always thought I would take my own advice and believe in the support the company would provide. Despite this, I still felt anxious about the decision to take parental leave. This was balanced by an overwhelming feeling of joy, happiness and excitement about the journey I was about to take. I kept telling myself I will never get the time back and it genuinely felt like the start of something that would stretch and develop me unlike anything else.
My first five days were the most difficult but also very rewarding. I had to learn something new each day to manage so many different and challenging situations. My approach to parenting had to grow and it did by using a learning mindset—which is something I have applied coming back into the workplace.
What broader things can be done to normalise men taking paid parental leave?
We need to normalise the role of parenting for men and women as equal. This will involve the education of a whole generation of managers (especially male) who have not experienced men taking parental leave as the norm.
I think having male senior managers who take parental leave talk about their experience would help to normalise it, as will training team members to ensure they are aware of the changes someone who has taken parental leave has been through and how they can help and manage that person and the transition back to work.
I feel very supported with my return from parental leave and the flexibility that has been provided. There is always more to do but encouraging others to take the opportunity is one of the biggest things that I want to focus on. My experience has been extremely positive, and I would like to think that this can become the norm for all fathers wishing to take parental leave.