Working fathers need flexibility too! Encouraging gender equality in parenting

“Being a father means you have to think fast on your feet. You must be judicious, wise, brave, tender, and willing to put on a frilly hat and sit down to a pretend tea party.”

Matthew Buckley, Fatherhood: The Manliest Profession

The debate around parental leave is one that seems to be ongoing and in light of the latest British Social Attitudes survey, the results demonstrate that despite being in 2019, that there is still a strong view towards mothers taking the lead on parental leave.

Despite the shifting dynamics of UK households, a time where women have a focus upon their career and are quickly becoming the main source of income within thousands of households, it begs the question; what can we do to change the view on fathers taking time out to bring up their children equally with mothers?

I remember my dad working solidly when I was growing up and I think that is where I get my drive when it comes to my working life, but fast forwarding 30 years and a lot has changed since then, we are more aware of productivity levels, the importance of work life balance, work is no longer just about money! How times have changed!

The survey identified that forty per cent of British people felt that mothers should take the most of the paid shared parental leave , whereas almost no one suggested the father taking the majority of the leave.

From personal experience, my friends who are new fathers are taking a more active role in bringing up their children, and one challenge they always say to me is the issues with flexibility within their organisations. Most cannot afford to take excessive time out to spend time with their families, and they also often feel that flexible working is not an option that is open to them. This suggests that both organisations and business leaders need to start influencing attitudes towards fathers and supporting them as much as we do with working mothers.

This point is supported by a recent research report created by DaddiLife, Millennial Dad at Work surveyed over 1,200 fathers throughout the UK, which highlighted that nearly nine in ten dads were mostly or fully involved in parenting duties. 

Furthermore, the report highlighted some interesting statistics:

  • 63% of new dads at work have requested a change in working pattern since becoming a father, while 14% of millennial dads have requested to work from home between one and two days per week. Less than one in five of those dads (19%) were granted it 
  • 40% have requested a change in working hours, with 44% of them being unsuccessful
  • 56% believed that fathers were treated equally to mothers in their workplaces
  • 59% of the fathers surveyed suggested that more flexible working is needed at their workplace.

So what can organisations do?

More organisations are seeing the benefits of enhancing paternity and shared parental leave policies such as retaining valued employees. Large organisations O2 and Diagio have recognised the need for these changes which is a huge step forward so I hope it will encourage more organisations to follow suit. Here are some ways in which these organisations are helping to achieve equality for their employees:

Flexible working

One simply way that organisations can begin to support working fathers is by promoting the flexible working options within their workplaces, this can go beyond just having a standard policy, some organisations even have it as part of their paternity discussions. It’s small changes like this that can spark the conversation and highlight what options are available.

Looking at shift patterns and fitting them in to family life so there is a balance is also an option. Of course this depends on whether it is feasibly possible in line with the operational requirements but is something that could be explored.

Encourage a work life balance

Going home on time each day when your shift ends sounds simple enough doesn’t it? In some cases it is frowned upon which is frankly crazy. There is a long running joke in our office that we come to work for a rest to get away from the kids, but we need to make sure employees are not only getting adequate rest, but are getting quality time with their families.

It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to tell us that by promoting a healthy balance, it not only helps keep employees productive, but it also has a positive effect on their mental health.

Stigma

As with any taboo subject, the way forward to becoming truly equal within our workplaces is by getting people talking. This subject is not an exception, some fathers have stated that they have experienced comments around booking time off, leaving on time and some have suggested that having holiday granted was an issue. Of course it is on a case by case and organisational basis but again it’s by starting these conversations we can establish practical solutions to these issues.

I am a true believer that every HR professional has the ability to challenge the status quo and positively influence these much needed changes in order to make our workplaces truly equal for everyone.

With this in mind, how will you start the conversation for working fathers in your workplace?

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