Lucie Mitchell explores what workplace initiatives work to reach out to working dads.
As increasing numbers of dads take a more active role in childcare, it’s crucial that employers create a culture that supports working fathers as well as mothers to ensure all parents successfully manage the balance between work and family.
However, research suggests that employers need to do more to support dads at work. A survey by Business in the Community in 2018 found that 66% of men would be encouraged to use more family-friendly policies if they were confident it wouldn’t impact their career, while twice the amount of men than women with caring responsibilities believe their organisation expects men to prioritise work above family commitments.
Meanwhile, a 2017 report by The Fatherhood Institute revealed that employed fathers are almost twice as likely as mothers to have requests for flexible working turned down, while employers are more likely to ‘top up’ maternity pay than paternity or shared parental pay, suggesting they are more supportive of women taking leave.
“It’s important that employers recognise men’s fatherhood because that results in happier, more productive male employees,” comments Jeremy Davies, head of communications at the Fatherhood Institute. “It also matters because, by viewing men as fathers, employers accept that all parents have a responsibility for hands-on parenting, not just the mothers.”
Ben Black, CEO of My Family Care, believes we will never get anywhere close to gender equality until we recognise men as fathers. He says: “If we are serious about getting the best talent to the top, irrespective of gender, then recognising dads is fundamental. If it’s OK for women to be leaders then it needs to be OK for men to be carers.”
It’s therefore important that employers reach out to dads by implementing workplace initiatives that help them feel just as supported as mums do. This could include, for example, enhancing paternity leave and pay and communicating to dads that it’s ok to take leave and work flexibly.
“More can be done around breaking down the barriers for men when asking for flexibility and talking about work-life balance,” remarks Claire McCartney, diversity and inclusion adviser at the CIPD. “It’s about enhancing the benefits that are on offer, but also cultural and communication changes to open up acceptance around working fathers and managing their work-life balance.”
Support groups can play a key role in enabling working parents to talk about the issues that are important to them. It also sends out the message that it’s ok to discuss these matters in the workplace. Many employers have set up parent networks, to enable parents to talk and support each other; however there is still a misconception that anything aimed at parents in the workplace is for mums.
Employers could consider providing specific dad networks, to ensure fathers have their own space, but this does depend on whether there is a desire for this amongst the fathers in your organisation.
“You might not need a dad-only network – it’s not like men and women are incapable of sharing the same space to discuss common interests,” comments Davies. “But if there was a big appetite for dads to create their own network, and a feeling that they might feel excluded otherwise, it could be a way forward.”
McCartney suggests having an overall parent network, and including specific sessions for dads as part of that. “You can probably serve both purposes, but actually dedicate some specialist time and networking events to dads in particular, to encourage them to come to the groups and share some of the challenges they are experiencing,” she says.
Employers must focus on how to encourage and attract enough dads to join these networks, especially if they may have previously been aimed solely at mums.
Jonathan Swann, head of research at Working Families, says that employers need to tailor the networks to be relevant to fathers. “Getting a senior father to ‘own’ or support the group is really useful in getting the message across that this is something the company endorses. Also, covering subjects that are of particular relevance and interest to fathers is a great way of generating interest and participation.”
Davies agrees that role modelling is essential. He says: “Recruiting senior male employees, ideally at board level, to be the face of your father-focused campaign can be really powerful. If junior colleagues can see dads at the top of the organisation ‘walking the talk’, it gives them permission to self-identify as hands-on fathers.”
One other thing to consider is the language that is used and the way that parent support is promoted.
“Use the ‘f’ word – father – as ‘parent’ is too easily understood as mother,” advises Davies. “Be rigorous about challenging gender stereotypes wherever they occur, and find and promote the evidence that allows fathers and mothers to understand how they can do the best possible job as parents, while also pursuing their career successfully.”
Organisations need to take the taboo out of men talking about childcare responsibilities, adds McCartney. “Help to normalise the taking up of flexible working for dads,” she advises. “Ensure senior leaders talk about their flexible working patterns and managers share what it feels like to be a new father. All this will hopefully normalise the agenda as much as possible.”
Black concludes: “It’s all about making sure fathers are included in, rather than excluded from, the working parent conversation.”