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HR expert Karen Lothian explains why we’re at a crucial moment when it comes to engaging with working dads and driving gender equality at work
Karen Lothian is a qualified coach with 20 years of experience working in HR. She helps men grow their confidence, support their wellbeing and mental health and help guide them through life transitions. This includes helping them navigate parenthood.
Culture is what makes an organisation unique. It can be the reason people want to work for a particular company, or why they want to leave. It can give people the opportunity to flourish, grow and develop but it can also place unseen barriers in the way.
We have been working for years to change the thoughts and attitudes around working mums, to have the right to work flexibly and have the same opportunities as their male colleagues. The conversation is now moving towards a different group facing similar challenges – the working dad.
Before the pandemic, there was already a rise in fathers planning to pursue more flexible working options in order to better balance family life. But many were being denied by their organisations. There is still a huge cultural stigma around the role of dads and massive organisational barriers around how they should be at work. Disappointingly, in a recent report by PowWowNow they stated that one in five fathers have faked illness at work to manage childcare.
There are a lot of misguided perceptions. The roles of male breadwinner and female caregiver are far from outdated. They are active, powerful stereotypes that dominate our social reality and cast a shadow on our attitudes and behaviour at home and work. Whether we like it or not, they remain silent guidelines that frame our lives and undermine our attempts at progress.
Many dads worry about how taking an increased parenting role will be perceived by their colleagues. Many report being mocked after opting to work part time to share childcare duties. There has been progress made but there is still a lot to do. Fathers need to have their roles and responsibilities acknowledged and respected in an equal way.
Due to the attitudes around dads in the workplace many are considering a move. The Millennial Dad at Work report, which was undertaken by Daddilife and Deloitte, highlighted that a third of dads have changed jobs to better reconcile work and family obligations. A further third are looking to change jobs. On average it costs around £45k to replace an employee, which not only takes into consideration agency costs but also it has an impact on loss of productivity as others cover the work, morale, interview costs and training costs to name a few.
Requests for flexible working are increasing. Though stats show that dads requests are more likely to be rejected compared to mums. In a poll conducted by workingdads.co.uk they found that two in five working fathers who applied for flexible working had their requests turned down. One in five working dads with flexible arrangements felt discriminated against by their managers and co-workers. And a quarter reported that their line manager did not understand the pressures of juggling work with family life.
If employers routinely grant flexible working requests made by women but not men, then there is the potential that this amounts to less favourable treatment resulting in a direct discrimination claim.
If more men are given the option to work flexibly, whether through reducing their hours or applying for part time roles, it will have an impact on gender pay gap. In the roles I have held, the biggest gap is not at the senior level but at the lower levels where there is a greater proportion of part time women
Sustainable culture change can be made possible by changes in employee behaviours and can make the difference between success and failure for a business. Leaders and key advocates discussing and demonstrating the desirable behaviours will help accelerate the change and encourage others to copy and follow.
By supporting men who are about to go through the huge transition of becoming a father, or who are already fathers and want to achieve a better work-family balance, you can help them to become more active role models at home and support them to work flexibly, while continuing to progress their careers. This also supports women, because until parenting is shared more equally, gender equality at work will remain a distant dream.
This is a conversation that is growing and picking up momentum. This is a perfect time for organisations to start driving the change. Finding ways to work through the barriers will benefit both genders. Equal parenting incentives and having truer equality conversations lead to actions and policies that enable a thriving business and a thriving family, going forward.