Daughter + dad = making the world a better place

Are male bosses who are dads of daughters more likely to create a more equal, diverse workplace? Oliver Haill investigates.



Parents often think about how they influence their children, but don’t generally ponder how the reverse can be true too.

One way that babies influence their dads, apart from denying them sleep and absorbing much of their money, is if they have daughters. When a dad is in a position of power and influence, such as in charge of a company, this daughter-father influence can create a powerful force for positive change.

Research backs this up. One study in Denmark found that male CEOs who became dads to daughters were more likely to act to close the gender pay gap at their company, with women’s wages rising relative to men’s. The birth of a son had no effect on the wage gap.

“Our results suggest that the first daughter ‘flips a switch’ in the mind of a male CEO, causing him to attend more to equity in gender-related wage policies,” the authors wrote.

If other dads are anything like me, it was less of a flicking of switch than a swirling array of new thoughts and concepts going through my mind in the first weeks and months of becoming a dad.

One of the many ways my daughter blew my mind was to make me think about the world in a whole new ways: gender-appropriate clothes and toys, gender stereotypes, glass ceiling stories in newspapers and news about the shortage of women CEOs in the FTSE 100 became more of a personal matter. I don’t think I was in any way backward in my way of thinking before I became a dad, but I started to think more and more about how my daughter would fit into the world as she grew up.

And I am by no means alone.

A key group

“The birth of my daughter turned my world upside down,” says Alex Hirst, a former brand manager who started the Hoxby freelance collective.

“I think, as a father, you have an inherent desire to want to protect your daughter. But I think I have an extra resolve to make sure she has the same opportunities that I’ve had. And it made me realise that I’d been taking for granted the opportunities that I’d had as a guy and made me pay more attention to the issue of gender equality and what men need to do to be the solution.

“I think fathers of daughters are a really key group, as I think that they understand what it is to be a man and they understand what it’s like to want the best for a woman.”

Trying to make the world a more equal place is, of course, not just true of Danish CEOs, but is a phenomenon for dads of daughters around the world. Joint research in the US and China found that when a firm was led by a CEO with at least one daughter, it rated higher on measures of diversity, employee relations and environmental stewardship. The research indicated having female children can increase empathy with regard to employee wellbeing and social issues generally.

Alex set up the Hoxby collective with business partner Lizzie Penny around a work-allocation system that is designed to help parents and others who need more flexible working arrangements compete against people who work a full nine-to-five.

“Having a daughter didn’t necessarily change the purpose or direction of Hoxby, but basically made me reframe what I was doing. It made it more personal and more important to me to make it work for Olivia’s sake,” says Alex.

It’s not just men in charge of businesses who may see things differently when then they become dads to daughters: it can spark positive change in many walks of life.

In one of his key acts as President, Barak Obama, a dad of two daughters, put in place fair pay legislation that aims to close the gender pay gap and new rules to compel companies to provide annual data on how much they pay employees based on gender, race and ethnicity. He was quoted in the Washington Times stating: “I want to make sure my daughters are getting the same chances as men. I don’t want them paid less for doing the same job as some guy is doing.”

Studying the decisions of Supreme Court judges in women’s rights cases led academics to suggest that having a daughter made judges learn what it’s like to be a woman. “Male judges perhaps learn a lot from having daughters. They might learn about things like discrimination in the workplace or discrimination on the basis of pregnancy,” the authors of the research say.

One way of reading it is that men become more sensitive to issues as they see their daughters come up against gender barriers the men themselves have never faced.

Targeting dads of daughters

That awareness has led to HR departments and campaigners specifically targeting dads of daughters to push through progressive gender equality policies.  Independent girls’ school have also been holding Dads4Daughters days on the back of this. Partly inspired by the UN’s HeForShe initiative, the campaign’s aim is to achieve greater gender equality in the workplace by enlisting fathers directly and by raising awareness amongst men of the key feminist issues faced by contemporary working women.

St Paul’s Girl’s School in London, which launched the campaign and has developed an online test that dads can do to test their unconscious biases, says: “When men become fathers of daughters, many report that their perspective on gender equality dramatically changes. They also become acutely aware of the challenges of achieving a work-life balance both for themselves and the women around them…When directly asked to consider if they would be happy for their daughters to work in a particular organisation, this can strike a real chord and motivate them to take real action. Moreover, many men are uniquely placed to take action and should be actively encouraged to do so.”

Even for those who are not CEOs or senior managers, having a daughter can have a big impact at work. For communications expert Paul Holland, having a daughter was one spur to him taking Shared Parental Leave. “I want my daughter to grow up in a world where her sex has no impact on her aspirations, her career or on how others view her,” he says. “One important way men can help shape such a world is to take up their right to look after their child in its early years.”

The challenge for equality campaigners is to extend this awareness more broadly.

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