Commission recommends extra paternity leave and ‘dad friendly’ work

Landmark report follows months of research by Commission into gender stereotyping, and helping dads is key



Better paternity leave and ‘dad friendly’ workplaces are two of the key recommendations of a landmark report into gender stereotypes.

The ‘Unlimited Potential’ report also called for health professionals to include dads in antenatal care and after they become a parent.

The Fawcett Society gathered a team of top commissioners including MP David Lammy and awards judge Jennifer Liston Smith to hear evidence as part of a commission into gender stereotyping in early years. Other influential stakeholders involved include Mumsnet and the National Childbirth Trust, the National Education Union and campaigners Let Toys Be Toys, to Usborne Books and educational publisher Pearson Plc. editor James Millar gave evidence as an expert witness.

The Unlimited Potential report is a result of 18 months of research, polling and evidence sessions. The findings show gender stereotypes are pervasive and place limits on children’s horizons.

Gender stereotypes result in a range of poor outcomes including inhibiting boys reading age, entrenching the gender pay gap and acting as a contributing factor to men’s higher rates of suicide.

Boys will be boys

Headline findings include that parents are seven times more likely to picture sons working in construction and almost three times as likely to see daughters in nursing or care work. The phrase “Boys will be boys” was reported as commonly heard in education settings when boys misbehave.

The Commission finds that a majority of parents recognise that there is a problem. Much of the polling pointed to a particular problem for boys and men.

  • Three quarters (74%) of parents say boys and girls are treated differently, and six in 10 (60%) say this has negative impacts.
  • 70% of mothers and 60% of fathers agree that this unequal treatment affects how able boys are to talk about their emotions
  • Parents are also concerned about how gender stereotypes result in bullying, particularly when it comes to boys – 61% say they would worry about bullying if their son behaved differently to what is seen as ‘normal’ for their gender, compared to 47% in relation to their daughters.

Role models

The report sets out the changes that need to happen. These include providing role models and helping parents to challenge stereotypes

Evidence gathered by the Commission shows that how parents divide up domestic and paid work tasks impacts on children’s perceptions of gender stereotypes, and that getting fathers more involved can help challenge stereotypes. The Commission finds that 69% of fathers and 76% of mothers agree that dads should be given longer, better-paid time off when a child is born, if they want it.

The Commission’s recommendations include changes in education, the workplace and how toys are marketed.

Challenging gender stereotypes

The Commissioners call on the Department for Education to make challenging gender stereotypes a priority all the way through teaching and childcare – from initial training, to the curriculum, to inspection frameworks. They want to see toy companies drop “toys for boys” and “toys for girls” in their advertising and product design, designers to end stereotypical imagery and slogans on clothes, and improve the representation of female characters in books, TV and online content.

Sam Smethers, Fawcett Society Chief Executive, said: “Gender stereotyping is everywhere and causes serious, long lasting harm – that’s the clear message from the research for the Commission. From “boys will be boys” attitudes in nursery or school, to jobs for boys and jobs for girls views among some parents, these stereotypes are deeply embedded and they last a lifetime.”

“We need to end the ‘princessification’ of girls and the toxification of boys. The commercial sector too often uses gender stereotypes and segregates boys and girls simply to sell more products.

“But this is not about making everything gender neutral. We also have to make women and girls visible when, because of pre-existing bias, the default male will still be the prevailing assumption. So for example, routinely showing children women leaders or scientists is important.

“The majority of parents recognise that there is a problem and increasingly they want something different. They want to see real change coming from Government and companies and need practical help to make changes themselves.”


Professor Becky Francis, Commission Co-chair said: “What every parent hopes for their child, and what educators hope for children in their class, is that they will be free to achieve their potential – yet what the evidence shows is that we still limit our children based on harmful, tired gender stereotypes.

“That adds up to real harm. From boys’ underachievement in reading, to the gender pay gap, the evidence is clear that the stereotypes we impart in early childhood cause significant damage to our children.

“But this is also a message of hope. If Government, companies, educators and parents take action, we can challenge stereotypes and change lives, making it possible for our children to live with fewer limitations.”

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