Why role models matter for normalising flexible working

Dave Dunbar says that more positive role models of flexible working at all levels by men and women are the way to normalise it.

Flexible Working


It’s sometimes very difficult, at first glance, to tell those organisations which are really poor at flexible working apart from those which are truly excellent. That’s because the excellent don’t speak about it much. They live it, for everyone.

They don’t overtly promote policies or behaviours, because they are embedded. They don’t measure, because it’s all as natural as breathing. From the outside, it looks like they are not doing much at all. What underpins that, of course, is massive change to get to that stage, involving open debate, enlightened policy and behavioural norms.

Most of us don’t work for a company that is truly excellent, or really poor, at this. We work for organisations that want to do the right thing but find it hard, complicated, and a little bit scary.

So given that trend and general desire, why have so few working dads taken up the opportunities available?

Fear of standing out

It’s complex, of course, but one reason is the reluctance to do something that seems uncommon or unusual. Success breeds success. People generally take a good look around before they plunge into anything new and perhaps there aren’t enough relatable success stories out there.

There aren’t enough role models. A lot of people do benefit from flexible working arrangements, but it’s often all just a little bit hushed up.

The first rule of flexible working may be that you don’t speak about flexible working.

And where there are published examples we may not be able to relate to them. So many of the good examples are board members or senior figures so this can begin to look like the exception that proves the rule. If we only hear about people who are already at the top of the corporate ladder making a success of flexible working then this reinforces the impression that it is a privilege, rather than a viable option for most of us.

Vested interests

On top of that, the types of industry which tend to feature their successes in dads adopting flexible working, are often the types of industry with a vested interest in doing so. A technology company, for example, which sells collaboration powered by location independence is likely to (a) work very flexibly, and (b) want to tell everyone about it.

Taking that hypothesis, that we would see a better uptake of flexible working amongst working dads (and mums and people generally) if there were more role models that we could relate to, suggests a couple of “asks” of us all.

Organisations need to demonstrate great examples at all levels and across all functions. If they put these examples out there then they bank benefits in terms of recruitment and image, and they support all of us going forward.

Beyond that, we all need to engage more vocally, as working dads, around what we need from flexible working, and compare notes much more widely.  Getting work-life balance right is all part of being a great dad, and that’s something worth talking about.

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