Simon Gregory of GPS Return writes about his experience of helping dads back to work after a period out.
As a recruitment company that specialises in helping parents return to work it is perhaps unsurprising that we work with more mums than dads. What may be a surprise to some is the differences in the approach we take when we work with dads, the different challenges dads face, both in finding a new role and returning to work, and how we overcome those challenges.
In February we helped two dads return to work. Although they came from different backgrounds and circumstances, they both faced the similar hurdles and the knowledge they were not alone in overcoming these difficulties was a big help to both.
Dad A has two children, aged four and six, and had been a full-time parent for just over two years. During that time, him and his family had moved from London back to Yorkshire and so much of his network was no longer useful. As a very experienced sales professional working for FTSE 100 companies he had no problems generating interest in his CV. But getting companies to think about offering any sort of flexibility was a different thing entirely.
Dad B also has two children with both at high-school. After taking voluntary redundancy at the start of 2019 he had decided to become a full-time parent for 6-9 months so his wife could be fully focused on her career which had recently taken off. This led Dad B to start looking for a part-time role or a job that offered an element of flexibility. Again, as a very talented marketing manager with an excellent reputation in the industry he had no end of ‘coffee and chats’ but companies were unwilling to offer any form flexibility.
Nine months became 12 became 15 and then he gave GPS Return a call.
Both Dads had experienced prejudice because they had chosen to put family first. Comments from an ex-boss about “your wife’s thumbprint”, ex-colleagues laughing at the idea of making it home for the kids bath time – “that’s what the weekends are for!” and even a comment about how working flexibly will “damage your career”.
They both had recruiters try to sell the idea of accepting a full-time role with no flexibility and then making a flexible work request after six months. In other words, ‘Take a full-time role so I can charge full fee and then ask for flexibility when it is no longer my problem’.
But the simple truth is that dads usually find it easier to return than mums. Whereas it is assumed that mums will still have to deal with sick kids and that work will come second (as if that is a bad thing). These associations are not made with dads. It is assumed men will put work first, be career and money focused and do what it takes to succeed. The consequence of this is that dads have to be much more careful about the companies they apply to, interviews they go for and jobs they accept.
So with both dads we cut out the noise and boiled the job search down to the ‘must haves’, which is usually a function, an industry or two, a minimum salary, a maximum commute and the the most basic form of flexibility they were looking for. Dad A wanted 24-30hrs a week, Dad B wanted full-time with 2 days remote.
Using this as the framework we then approached a number of fast-growing SMEs who already offered flexibility or were more than willing to offer the flexibility the dads were looking for in return for their experience, knowledge, reputation and client network.
From there we were able to flesh out the ‘nice to haves’ such as product, culture, future business plans, resources etc.
In short, we created a need, negotiated and made a trade, and both dads were able to choose the opportunity that ticked most of their boxes and enabled them to be both the parent AND professional they wanted to be.
But it doesn’t end there.
Mums returning to work after maternity leave or after a longer break as a full-time parent are often given support, mentors and time to settle back into a role. Dads are generally expected to get on with it.
Dad A found it harder returning to work than he imagined. Like it or not, it does take a while to settle back in to work. So we asked the company “what support do you offer to parents returning to work?”. Most companies will have a policy in place, they just won’t have thought to offer it to a dad. By asking the question we started a conversation between the company and Dad A and, whilst he didn’t think he needed the full support that was on offer, he was able to take advantage of some of the return policies the company had, settle in to the role much faster and make a bigger impact in his first few months with the business.
As men, our challenges are different. But different doesn’t mean easier. So use resources available to you to understand and minimise the challenges ahead but, more importantly, speak to other Dads about their experiences that you can learn from and know that you are not alone. In fact, pretty soon, you will part of the majority.
Simon Gregory is managing partner at GPS Return.