I recently became a father to a wonderful (and ridiculously cute) baby boy. It’s important to me, as it is for many new Dads, to play a full role at home and simultaneously perform highly at work.
My wife has a busy working life too, so it’s important for her career that I do my bit at home. I’ve always been an advocate for diversity and inclusion in the workplace, but before now I hadn’t considered how this relates to fathers.
With this in mind, I was fascinated to attend a conference hosted by the Equality and Human Rights Commission: ‘Working fathers then and now: intergenerational perspectives’.
The conference explored the changing role of fathers in the modern workforce and the intrinsic link to gender equality and closing the gender pay gap. I wanted to share the key insights and learnings, together with some thoughts on how these could be applied to the modern workplace.
Setting the scene
The room was filled with people who are passionate about diversity, inclusion and work-life balance from across the public, private and charity sectors. It was reassuring to realise that so many other working fathers, mothers, and grandparents feel the same as me about the difficulties faced by working fathers who also want to be hands-on at home.
There was an impressive line-up of speakers, including:
- The Group Public Policy and Sustainability Director at AVIVA, who is currently sharing this role with another father which makes it one of the most senior two-father job shares in the UK.
- The founder of ‘Music. Football. Fatherhood’, an online parenting platform, which has been described as the Mumsnet for dads.
They shared their first-hand experiences of balancing working and home life, as well as sharing the latest research and evidence relating to the changing role of fathers.
It was fascinating to discover
The changing role of fathers: Evidence shows that parents sharing childcare and household responsibilities has wide-ranging benefits for both parents and for the child. With fathers taking a more active role, mums are less disadvantaged in terms of career progression and pay and can better manage their work-life balance. Divorce rates are lower and fathers report building better relationships with their children.
The business case: Putting any moral argument aside, egalitarian parental policies are good for business. Expectations around gender roles and work-life balance have shifted substantially over the last 40 years. Improving work-life balance and spending more time with your family is more commonly seen as ‘success’. Parental leave and flexible working are now key to attracting and keeping talent. Not to mention reducing costs relating to stress, absence and the huge impact of family breakdown. Some employers are assessing the impacts of failure to address this need.
Implementing change: The government’s Shared Parental Leave Scheme has gone part of the way, but with very low take- up estimated at less than 2% of eligible people, it’s clear the scheme is flawed. One clear issue is that without enhanced pay attached, accessibility is only afforded by a privileged few. This must change.
Strategies to create gender equality
Parental pay: Many businesses still don’t offer any paid paternity leave. This presents a key opportunity for forward-thinking businesses to address this through a parental pay policy review with impact assessment and external benchmarking.
Flexible working: This includes job sharing, compressed hours, home working, flexi/toil and virtual meetings. All of this is so important for working parents, and businesses need to be more progressive to facilitate this. Flexible working should also be shared by shift workers, as well as those working normal hours.
Diversity Networks: Many organisations at the conference had a dedicated parents’ diversity network. This is a great way to connect working parents (both mums and dads) and allow them to offer support, guidance and recommendations back to the organisation. Having a network of support helps you to feel that you are not alone and having this led by your employer will really demonstrate how much they value employee wellbeing.
Improving HR policies and processes
There was a wide range of best practice ideas discussed. Below are the ones I believe will be the most beneficial for working fathers and the easiest to implement for HR:
- Become leaders in diversity and inclusion: Join organisations like Working Forward – the organisation with the mission of “Making workplaces the best they can be for pregnant women and [ALL] new parents.”
- Take note of businesses like Unibail-Rodamco-Westfield: They were recently crowned as the Winners of the “UBS Best for Fathers Network Award 2018”. They offer fathers many forms of support to help them find the right balance between work and family. This includes shared parental leave, enhanced paternity leave, workshops and a family buddy system.
- Create diversity networks: Many organisations at the conference had a dedicated parents’ diversity network. This is a great way to connect working parents (both mums and dads) and allow them to offer support, guidance and recommendations back to the organisation. Having a network of support helps you to feel that you are not alone and having this led by your employer will really demonstrate how much they value employee wellbeing.
- Introduce guidance/workshops for managers: By training managers and people in power about new policies, best practice and appropriate behaviours the process can be much easier for working parents.
- Improve HR information: This can include advice and support around understanding parental benefits, anxiety about returning to work and flexible working. HR could even hold a regular surgery, with automated invites when formal systems are triggered. This would also help to create peer-to-peer support networks.
- Implement a buddy/mentor system for parents: Parents can discuss how they manage flexible working and work-life balance and share ideas and tips with each other.
- Promote the availability of flexible working options: Including this in recruitment adverts will be a big draw for parents. It will also help to create a bigger talent pool for businesses when recruiting new staff, as it demonstrates great company culture. Win-win situation!
- Help minimise travel for parents: Promote virtual meetings, remote work and the ability for project staff to transfer to projects closer to home.
- Implement half day leave: This helps parents whose children need to be taken to school, attend appointments or anything else that may occur during the working day.
Organisations from all sectors are now implementing policies that drive cultural change for working parents which help men to be open and honest with line managers and peers. Yet according to presented research, men are still less comfortable discussing parental responsibilities at work and less likely to have flexible working requests approved. Clearly employers should be doing more to support working fathers and help eliminate the stigma around fathers wanting to spend time with their children as much as working mothers.
We are still a long way off from employers fully supporting Dads to be their best selves at home and at work.
One speaker summed up the day perfectly, “Until men can access the home, women won’t be able to fully access the workplace”.