Encouraging more involved dads

Can we encourage dads to be more involved? A Global Institute for Women’s Leadership event this week discussed the subject.

Father with a baby


Working hours is a crucial issue when it comes to sharing care more equally between mums and dads, rather than social attitudes, according to a new study led by Dr Rose Cook at the Global Institute for Women’s Leadership.

The results of the study were unveiled at an event for International Men’s Day this week.

It found that attitudes to parenthood are changing, with research showing the benefits of dads being more involved in their children’s upbringing – to dads, children and society – and that the gender pay gap is mainly a motherhood pay gap.

The study also found that the early involvement of dads in their children’s lives has an impact on their lifetime involvement. It is more likely that a dad will share childcare if the mum works more hours, although dads who work full-time hours are less likely to do so. Often dads work more hours after a child is born – more than men who don’t have children – but women reduce their hours, with productivity being less of a factor in pay and career progression rather than presenteeism.

The report shows the importance of targeted and well paid parental leave, but confirmed that Shared Parental Leave is not realistic – or actually possible – for many as the rates of pay are so low. Flexible working is also crucial for dads, although many men feel that they cannot reduce their hours and there is less support for dads who work part time unless the mum is also a part time worker.

Understanding the barriers

A discussion followed the presentation of the research’s main findings. Marvyn Harrison from Dope Black Dads suggested that men may have very few tools to be involved fathers, for instance, their own fathers may not have been involved parents when they were children. They need support, he said, and to understand how to build a good co-parenting relationship with the mother of their children, especially if they are no longer living with them.

Simon Kelleher from Working Families explored the reasons behind the low uptake of parental leave, the lack of access to enhanced leave for many or to any paid leave for some. He said that the statutory rate for parental leave is just 27% of an average week’s wages, meaning that men lose £1K if they take the full two weeks’ leave – and this at a time when they may face steep childcare costs for other children and their partner is on a reduced income. He said that the Government needs to increase rates for parental leave because many employers can’t afford to. Working Families estimates that it would cost £7bn to increase paternity leave by four weeks and extend eligibility to more dads, but Kelleher acknowledged that, politically, it would be a struggle for any Government to get that through.

Nitesh Prakash from global consultancy Bain & Company spoke about the advantages of equal parental leave, when men and women get the same benefits, over Shared Parental Leave. “Equal parental leave drives systemic change,” he said, adding that Bain & Company has an online tool, developed with Business in the Community, which allows employers to calculate the cost to their company of enhanced equal parental leave.

Author of Dads Don’t Babysit and former editor of workingdads.co.uk, James Millar, said it is hard to compare the costs with the benefits because the benefits are huge and long-lasting. We know that shared parental leave makes for better relationships and happier people all round. He suggested that there seems to be a disconnect between what men say and what they actually do, and that we need to encourage men to share their experiences of being dads more, for instance, via Whatsapp groups. “Having conversations is the way forward,” he said, adding that it is also important to overcome the tendency to fall into banter and stereotypes.

Harrison suggested it is important to highlight men’s self interest in being more involved parents – for instance, asking them to picture themselves as an older dad whose kids won’t visit because they don’t really know them. He said that it is not just about parental leave, but also about social attitudes towards men as carers, explaining that he had felt ‘erased’ when he took time off to be with his children. He talked about microaggressions and explained that he had returned to work rather than staying on leave because people were excited to see him at work and he felt useful.

All about language

Harrison also spoke from his perspective as a Diversity and Inclusion expert, to describe how men seem to be disengaging from the equality agenda because they see it as being about them being the cause of all the bad things happening in the world. He suggested that it is important to create a positive vision with men in it and to praise them when they are more involved parents.

Professor Rosie Campbell, who was leading the session, added that it is important that the language used to promote feminism is not exclusionary;  terms like ‘toxic masculinity’ ,for example, aren’t helpful as men take them as personal affronts rather than seeing them as something systemic. “We need to find space for sensible conversations,” she said. “As toxic workplaces are bad for both men and women.”

There was also a brief discussion of reports which show that younger men are becoming more hostile to gender equality. The panellists suggested that economic issues and social media are behind this, and agreed that the language used on both sides and in society generally is one of the main issues.

Harrison said that we need to value what different features men might bring to parenting, such as rough play and suggested that we could learn from other communities around the world where the family is more extended and sharing caring responsibilities is more encouraged. Millar also claimed that there are bad dad role models all around us, from Daddy Pig to Homer Simpson, and these stereotypes need to be challenged.

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