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Executive coaches Tom Beardshaw and Sam Akinluyi write about what ‘assortative mating’ can tell us about changes in the workplace – and it’s got nothing to do with David Attenborough
More families than ever have both parents working full time, and the number of families with a full time working father and a full time stay at home mother is now down to 22%, the lowest in the history of the UK. Women’s lives have transformed during the last forty years, and men have been adapting to these changes.
For example, one of our recent coachees has worked part time as a man – 4 days a week – for the past 5 years. His wife also changed to 3 days a week to help them thrive professionally and personally with 3 young children. It wasn’t perfect but worked for them. Just 10 years ago there were almost no men working flexibly. In 10 years time we expect it to be the “new” normal. Is your organisation leading by example or struggling to keep up with changing expectations of individuals and society?
While there are traditional narratives about male and female roles in the family, most contemporary parents have been liberated from these fixed ideas about gender roles and they are more likely to make couple level decisions about their roles at work and home.
For many working parents their career choices are inextricably linked to the career choices of their partners, and this is true for both men and women. For a parent to decide to pursue a career while they have young children, they will need a partner who is competent and confident about taking over at home. This has traditionally been true for a long time for men, but it is also true for women.
In the context of a couple relationship where a man’s partner wants to pursue a productive career, they are welcoming the opportunity to share the responsibility for breadwinning, and embrace the opportunity to become more involved in the lives of their children. In order to learn and become effective as parents, they need hands on practical experience, which is why paternity leave, and more latterly Shared Parental Leave, are growing in popularity amongst men.
Studies across Europe have shown that when a man takes solo parental leave (when his partner has returned to work) after a few months he gains a level of competence and confidence as a parent that will allow his family to begin to break free of traditional gender roles and their children have two competent parents available to them. As a result, Paternity and Shared Parental Leave are becoming important for any man who wants to create a family where family and work responsibilities are really shared and the parents can cope with interchangeable roles. As men we get the hands on practical experience and become capable as parents quicker; but also wives or partners are also more liberated. We have found that this often helps the family dynamic of our coachees and also their couple relationship, and this good quality homelife then feeds back into both of their workplace performance.
Over recent years, we have also seen an increase in ‘assortative mating’, in which people partner with others who are very similar in education, employment and culture to themselves. The most talented lawyers increasingly partner with other lawyers, or others at a similar level of the economy, and for men this means that the women they partner with are often career focussed and they want to share family responsibilities.
For companies who wish to attract the top talent, this can mean that they will be attracting people who will partner with someone who wants to share both the family and earning responsibilities in their partnership. These people will want to join a company that respects their family responsibilities, and with that, offer their staff good parental leave, flexibility at work and the possibility of succeeding at both work and home. Failing to make their family friendly policies visible means that they will miss out on this younger generation of talent who look out for these policies when they are looking for a company to join.
In the context of more couples wanting this type of shared responsibility family, talent is increasingly attracted to companies where there is a culture of respecting the family lives of both the women and men who work there. In our coaching experience, we regularly come across new fathers who are grappling with the incompatibility of the demands of their workplace on their time, and their family aspirations. Many of our coachees eventually decide to switch role or even company when they conclude that their workplace is incompatible with the family life that they aspire to.
For many talented young men, a culture that values their family can become a culture they can succeed in, in both areas of their life. But a company that does not could cause them an interminable headache. While we are used to thinking of work life balance as an issue that mostly affects women, in reality a higher number of men than women suffer from work family conflict, and a younger generation of men, partnering with a younger generation of women, are beginning to look differently at the issue, prioritising it for themselves as well as their partner.
For companies, it’s not enough to just publish the key information externally as we showed in our Parental Fog report. It needs to be regularly highlighted and communicated externally and internally to be heard and known about. In our experience of corporate communications departments, they often shy away from sharing employee stories, the employee value proposition and employee news, focussing instead on product and corporate news/events exclusively. When this is the case they miss a big opportunity to shape how people experience their brand.
We heard a story at a large financial organisation recently where an employee pointed out to their HR representative that the shared parental leave policy had multiple errors in it. HR need to make sure policies are accessible, simple to understand and accurate. The potential benefits in recruitment and retention of talent are worth the effort!
Tom Beardshaw and Sam Akinluyi are Executive Coaches with the Executive Coaching Consultancy working with fathers