Damian Sivajoti reports on his experience of shared parental leave and how it can help propel gender diversity within the profession
The merits of gender diversity have been widely publicised in recent years, and we're seeing women at the very top more than ever before; Theresa May, Angela Merkel and John Lewis boss Paula Nickolds to name a few. Yet the stats in our profession (and let's face it, we all love stats) don't paint quite the same picture.
The Diversity Advisory Group is working hard to put this right. The situation is not going to change overnight, but I think there is government policy in its infancy that will help make a real difference, and fast.
While quotas on FTSE 100 boards may have a 'trickle effect', they are still some way away from a lot of us. But one thing I think could make a difference on the shop floor is shared parental leave (SPL).
SPL (not to be confused with statutory paternity leave or the Scottish Premier League) launched in April 2015 and allows up to 50 weeks of maternity leave to be shared.
I have regularly seen female colleagues disappear for a year in the middle of their careers, yet rarely seen dads take any more than the standard two weeks of paternity leave. But now, SPL provides the opportunity to break the mould.
I decided two weeks wasn't enough for me. Not because I was on a diversity crusade, but because I wanted to spend more than two weeks with my son, Theo.
I am a pensions actuary and yet I spent the summer roaming the parks of London playing with children. A few months ago, I would have thought this sounded a bit odd. After all, I was one of the lads and it was all about football, cars, beer and, of course, pensions.
But it shouldn't sound weird, and my experiences have opened my eyes. Two days into my SPL and I was belting out nursery rhymes, shaking maracas and dancing around with other mums and children at a baby class. (My son was there too!) And it felt great. I had already considered myself as a hands-on dad, but being the primary carer, as my wife returned to work, brought the bond with Theo to a whole new level.
However, it wasn't all coffee dates and soft play. In fact, after the first week I was exhausted, covered in wee and begging for the weekend. Clearly SPL is not for everyone, but our work and profession shouldn't be a barrier; after all, women do this all the time.
Naturally, I had concerns before deciding to take 12 weeks off. What about my career? What about my clients?
The reality is that 12 weeks in the context of a 40-plus-year career is nothing. Our work is regularly completed in teams and peer reviewed, so, with appropriate planning and notice, there should be a way of arranging cover.
My colleagues, manager and, most of all, clients were unbelievably supportive and allowed me to truly enjoy my time without worrying about work.
Having been back for a few weeks now, it's like I was never off. I'm straight into the thick of things, but with a fresh perspective and appreciation for those around me.
The more men and women who leave and return to work, the more normal it will become. But also, and perhaps more
importantly, men will then appreciate what it's like to be off. These two things will help support the Diversity Advisory Group's drive for gender diversity within our profession.
A little help from the profession, for example, partial annual subscriptions, could make the process a little more accessible, but it's really down to us to make the difference.
Overall, my time on SPL was brilliant fun, immensely rewarding and some of the best months of my life. I wasn't the first to take SPL within my team and I know I certainly won't be the last, with a few people signed up already.
I can see this policy having a positive impact on gender diversity in every workplace up and down the country, but perhaps within our 'friendly' profession, you might get some double counting.
What are your experiences of diversity at work - good or bad? The IFoA's Diversity Advisory Group are keen to hear from you. Some of your stories may be shared on an anonymous basis at their next event, 'The Carrot, the Stick and Strategies for Success', on 13 February 2017. Share your story by emailing:
[email protected], or tweet using the hashtag: #actuariestalkDIVERSITY
For event details go to bit.ly/2gnEi8H
Damian Sivajoti is a pensions actuary at KPMG (and a new father)