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Flexibility for Fathers: A Workplace Taboo?

Something that is rarely considered when discussing gender equality at work is the way male parents face discrimination and judgement, and the detrimental effect that this in turn has on women at work.

If we want to live in a society that allows women to thrive, maintain their ambition and pump talent back into the economy after having children (which by the way is worth BILLIONS!), let’s address the overlooked - the need to change the attitudes on fathers in the workplace.

Following my latest blog “Growing Business and Babies” I had some fantastic feedback from some experienced professionals of both genders who reached out to me, and some really in-depth conversations about their personal experiences. Something that came to light as a result of these conversations was that employer’s attitudes towards fathers needed to change if we want to continue tackling the issues faced by women in business.  

“I couldn’t progress in that role properly as my husband’s boss is so bad when it comes to him picking our kids up” is something I hear all too often.

I have read some great reports on the “many hats” that women have to wear, alongside countless pieces of positive encouragement that we can “do it all”, but I began to question whether that’s right. Is it just acceptance on our behalf? Is that us saying that it’s ok to take on all that extra pressure, despite having a willing and capable father that can share those hats with you? Considering it in a logical way, it makes little sense, especially when you consider that middle aged women are 67% more likely to suffer work stress than male colleagues due to the pressures of juggling a family and the need to over-achieve at work.

The nursery calls, your child has a temperature – Who’s going to pick them up, mum or dad?

Employers that want to tackle their diversity, which let’s not forget is a benefit to our workforce and their business, also need to take a look at their attitudes towards the “father” demographic. It simply isn’t right to be deemed “unmanly” to be the carer, or to keep flexible arrangements taboo and invisible because of the worry of how it will be perceived. Be an employer that provides the flexibility that allows the gateway to household success. 

42% of men in a survey conducted by My Family Care said that they were worried that asking for parental responsibility would affect their career progression, and over 50% felt that participating in a flexible working scheme showed a lack of commitment. This is clearly discouraging for men, and good news for no one. However, women are more often than not the ones to take up full responsibility, drawbacks and all. Sharing the responsibility equally is a great way of ensuring children spend quality time with both parents, whilst both parents have a fair opportunity to progress in their careers. This not only means the future of their children is brighter, but both sides of the workforce remain relevant, not to mention the boost to the economy a balanced workforce provides.

But it’s up to employers to cultivate the changing attitude.

We must always focus on the positives and the progress society has made, and make it obvious to employers what a benefit this is. The proof is in the pudding - households with dual incomes are now far more common than those with a stay at home spouse, and fathers are spending seven times more time with their children than they did in the 1970s.

I speak from experience here - our household is passionate about getting both our careers and our parenting right. GCS has a fantastic attitude towards providing flexibility to parents, which I regret to say isn’t typical in our fast paced industry.  But what they get back in return is more than worth it. GCS “banks” my emotion to succeed in the workplace because they give me the gateway to have both a career and a family. However, as discussed, this is rarely enough – luckily my partner receives the same flexible treatment.

What do our employers get back? The days he isn’t dropping our son off or picking him up, he is in work first or leaving last, logging in from home whenever possible, and generally giving back to his employer what they have given him – flexibility and dedication.

And therein lies the reality, you are not getting less from your workforce by granting parental flexibility to your dads, you are actually gaining more - more emotional investment, more loyalty and more passion to succeed, and it’s up to both men and women, employer and employee to determine how to get it right.