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Research Seminar: Dr Holly Birkett

Moore 0-02/0-03
14/02/2018 (13:00-15:00)

Theme Group: Working life

Speaker:  Dr Holly Birkett, Lecturer in Organisational Behaviour, University of Birmingham

Title: `It's my time: the effects of maternal gatekeeping on the use of shared parental leave in the United Kingdom'.

Lunch will be provided at 12:45 in the Moore Building foyer. All welcome.


In an attempt to increase gender equality in the workplace and the boardroom, a number of European countries are increasingly extending the flexible working policies available to parents.  In this vein, the UK Government introduced a Shared Parental Leave Policy (SPL) in April 2015. Thus far, there has been no academic research on this in the UK context, despite the incredibly low take-up of SPL, with  HMRC data indicating that as few as 1% of those entitled to the benefit access it. Indeed, only 8,700 new parents used the policy between April 2016 and March 2017, while, during the same period, 661,000 mothers took maternity leave and 221,000 fathers took paternity leave. It is hard to imagine a less ‘successful’ policy. Our research begins to explain this pattern, uncovering and understanding the mechanisms which underpin this response and we also suggest ways in which the future take-up of SPL might be increased.

We conducted in-depth interviews with 60 men and women eligible for SPL, exploring both their understanding and their experiences of this new policy.  These interviews covered the respondent’s motivations, thought-processes and actions from the time they learnt they were expecting/due to adopt, through their decision-making about childcare responsibilities and their experiences of childcare in the first 12 months of the child’s life.

The results suggest that one of the most significant barriers was maternal gatekeeping, often conceptualised in the literature as mothers “imposing some degree of restriction on the father’s involvement with children” (Allen and Hawkins: 1999).  While this itself is not particularly surprising, what was interesting was the extent to which these controlling maternal gatekeeping behaviours where often driven by the SPL policy itself, rather than directly reflecting maternal identities (Hauser: 2012) and dominant gender stereotypes (Radcliffe and Cassell: 2015).  In addition, and relatedly, we uncovered evidence of maternal gatekeeping as an important enabler for the take-up of SPL.   Indeed, in our sample all those who had taken up their entitlement to SPL had been actively encouraged to do so by their partners.


Allen, S. M., & Hawkins, A. J. (1999) Maternal gatekeeping: Mothers' beliefs and behaviors that inhibit greater father involvement in family work. Journal of Marriage and the Family, 61(1), 199-212.

Hauser, O (2012) Pushing Daddy Away? A Qualitative Study of Maternal Gatekeeping. Qualitative Sociology Review, 8(1), pp. 34-59.

Radcliffe, L. S., and C. Cassell (2015) Flexible working, work–family conflict, and maternal gatekeeping: The daily experiences of dual-earner couples. Journal of Occupational and Organizational Psychology, 88 (4), pp. 835-855.


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