How working dads can ‘choose to challenge’

‘Choose to challenge’ is the theme of International Women’s Day 2021. We looked at what that might mean in practice for working dads

gender pay, gender equality, gender balance


The theme of this year’s International Women’s Day is ‘choose to challenge’. It’s a theme that speaks to men and women.

For it is particularly up to men to make that choice. There is an option for men to turn a blind eye to gender inequality because, broadly, men appear to benefit from it. In fact we all suffer when our wives, partners, daughters and mothers face a more challenging world purely by dint of their sex.

But that’s not to say it’s easy to stand up, speak out and choose to challenge. We are all subject to deeply held social stereotypes. Sometimes it feels like challenging those norms risks negative consequences.

But we know that one of the most powerful ways to drive change is through role models. On our mission is to share best practice, highlight the men who are challenging workplace norms, and let them tell their stories of the benefits they reaped.

Here’s some examples of men who chose to challenge and their stories. 

Choose to challenge the breadwinner stereotype

One of the strongest stereotypes is the idea that a dad ought to be a breadwinner. Recent research has shown that men remain wedded to the idea that they ought to provide for their family. If that drives ambition harnessed to a realisation that ‘providing’ involves more than just wealth and material possessions it can be a powerful positive. But studies have also shown that the stereotype brings negative consequences. If men are the breadwinner they only feel they are achieving the minimum required of their sex. And if they aren’t the breadwinner they feel they are failing.

HR professional James Lloyd went part time and his advice was clear: “Don’t worry about what other people think.”

James Lloyd

And author Simon Kettlewell writes movingly of his decision to combine writing and being a stay at home dad in his book Eternity Leave. “My finances are indelibly linked to my partner,” he told us. “It’s bothered me all the way through and I wouldn’t recommend it to anyone because it’s such a singular decision for each person as an individual. But it’s not just a financial decision. There’s so much to gain from it. Would I do it all again? Yes I would.”

Choose to challenge the idea that work means 9-5 five days a week

We’re all about genuine choice at So if working eight hours a day, five days a week, in an office is what works best for you and your family that’s fine. But we know that most dads want something a bit more flexible. And we know that dads who do work differently generally enjoy it.

There’s lots of examples on the site. Schneider Electric’s John Flynn works four days a week to give him more time for his family and their hobbies. “Nobody loses,” he told us. And he included some advice on approaching your boss with a proposal to change your hours.

Lots of dads have been working odd hours during lockdown, fitting work around homeschool and just feeding the kids three times a day. Why not continue that pattern? Get up early or work late, whatever suits you. Manage it properly and it’ll lead to a more equal household and a more equal world.

Any why not talk to colleagues or line managers about adopting a four day week? It’s good enough for Microsoft. One of the most ardent global advocates for the policy, Andrew Barnes, made the case in his book and when talking to us here.

Author Andrew Barnes outside the White House with his book on the four day week

Choose to challenge the world by doing the washing up

The State of the World’s Fathers report is clear – the biggest impediment to gender equality is domestic work. And the experience of the pandemic seems to have thrown that into sharper relief with research finding that the bulk of homeschooling falling on women when they were already doing most of the housework. We can change that.

Regular blogger Ian Dinwiddy explained for us why the ‘mental load’ is a term that men need to take seriously. It means not just doing the washing or the washing up, but doing it without being asked, knowing if the ketchup is about to run out, checking that the kids sports kit is ready for the right day.

We spoke to Umar Kankiya for our Working Dads and Lockdown series. His organisation, Dope Black Dads, is asking men to commit to just an extra 15 minutes of housework every day. You could change the world in just a quarter of an hour. That has to be good.

Choose to challenge the idea you’re not or can’t be a dad

Families come in all shapes and sizes, so the role of dad is adaptable and flexible too. Often flexible working can be helpful for single dads allowing them to fit work round their childcare commitments.

Same sex partners can of course be dads, but interestingly can fall foul of the same sort of stereotyping that affects mixed gender partnerships as Daddy and Dad blogger Jamie Beaglehole explained in this chat.

And recently we featured Ethan Salathiel’s story. He initially turned to flexible working during his gender transition. His GP was scornful of the idea he and his partner could be parents. But he challenged that and a visit to the Alternative Parenting Show opened up a path to having the family he wanted.

Gender transition dad Ethan Salaniel walking with daughter

Choose to challenge the idea that men and women are on opposing sides

Everyone gains from gender equality. Choosing the challenge norms can feel awkward, there can be downsides. I’ve spoken before about how I challenged a fellow dad who talked about ‘throwing like a girl’ and my invites to the pub grew less frequent as a result. But I wouldn’t change it.

We know that men who are more engaged with their family and who have a better work life balance enjoy better mental and physical health, are happier at home and more productive at work. Their partners are also likely to earn more and report better mental health. And the two will have a better romantic relationship. Their children will be happier, smarter, less likely to get in trouble with the law and more likely to have a gender equal outlook. 

Men and women are in this together.

If you’re visiting this site the chances are you believe in equality and want to do things differently.

You’re choosing to challenge norms just by engaging with the issues, reading this article, thinking about different ways of behaving and modelling work and parenthood. Give yourself a pat on the back and keep on choosing to challenge.

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