Working dads: Building back better

On International Men’s Day we’re publishing the findings of our series on how men have coped in 2020. And we’re asking for your input to build back better in 2021

Note pad with the words Let's get started written on it with black pen and laptop on a grey background

 

Here’s how we do it. Here’s a plan to build back better for working dads.

In an editorial meeting a few weeks ago I discussed with colleagues my plans for the ‘working dads and lockdown’ series. The title seemed out of time. And yet today, on International Men’s Day, most of the UK is locked down again.

But it’s not just circumstances that make it relevant. It’s the themes discussed, the problems shared, and the widespread feeling that we must use the lessons learned to change the world. That sounds ambitious. But the pandemic is a hinge moment, if we make it so. It’s so big in its effects and implications that it provides enough leverage to achieve something of scale.

Working dads and lockdown

I started the ‘working dads and lockdown’ series in August as I sought to make sense of all that had happened in 2020. The series ended up consisting of 16 essays. Contributors included campaigners, companies, organisations and individuals. I’ve digested and dissected the words, drew a mind map on the side of a massive cardboard box, and teased out seven key themes.

The next phase of this project comes down to the word that cropped up time and again throughout 2020 when considering what worked – communication.

I want your input. Let’s talk through the issues. Let’s draw on the experience of as many working dads as possible. If there’s a change you want to see; a particular policy you think could make a difference – either at home, in the workplace or across society more generally – get in touch.

We’ll be across social media for the next month seeking input, sparking discussions, shaping these themes into an action plan for 2021. We’ll take Christmas off (obv, everyone deserves a break this year). And early next year we’ll publish not just a manifesto of changes we want to see, but a route map to making them happen.

Fingers crossed by the next International Men’s Day the world will have shaken off the worst of coronavirus. We intend to work towards having something to celebrate on 19 November 2021 – a better world for working dads that fuels more equality, prosperity and fulfilment for men, women and children.

Here’s the themes we’re going to focus on. Share your thoughts and ideas to turn them into successful work streams.

The Switch

How do you mentally switch from ‘work mode’ to ‘dad mode’. No working dad cited this as their number one issue or concern with lockdown. Yet so many mention it that it’s clearly a very common experience. And it needs to be addressed.

There’s a deeper question here about why men so clearly delineate between the two in their minds. So much so they seem to actually need a commute in which to not just physically travel home but mentally travel from work to domestic life. We’ll get under the bonnet of this one, try and work out what’s going on and how it can be addressed.

But we also want to offer practical tips. What helps make that transition easier? In his working dads and lockdown essay Brian Ballantyne suggested that the more you use the muscle you stronger it becomes. That generally holds true. Another intriguing suggestion came from Paul Jaggers at Lloyds who wrote about the importance of your email signature. If you telegraph clearly when you’re available for work and when you’re not perhaps that would help with The Switch too?

Distraction was clearly a problem when many working dads were homeschooling in the spring. Rob Taylor focussed on it in his contribution courtesy of some handy and ongoing research. That should be less of an issue now. But it speaks to a broader, classic working dad problem – pressure and expectation management. Distraction only becomes a problem if you’re under pressure to do something else, that might be an email distracting you from playing Lego with your child (as per Han-Son Lee’s blog) or it could be a hungry child distracting you from a Zoom meeting. Perspective seems key here. We’ll try to offer tips to deal with distraction.

Empathy

I’ve written already about how important empathy is in 2020. I was struck by how both Aviva and Zurich said they moved quickly to provide reassurance to the parents in their employ, particularly financial reassurance. That shows a level of understanding, a recognition of what people, and particularly parents, faced as the pandemic struck.

Furlough was a sort of financial reassurance at the national level. But many people fell through the cracks, particularly the self employed. 80% of the freelancers that responded to our latest survey said they got nothing at all. Could we dream up a policy parachute that is always guaranteed to kick in the face of economic difficulties?

All those Zoom meetings and Facebook quizzes that marked the first months of lockdown gave us a glimpse into other people’s houses. Not just our friends and family but bosses, employees and colleagues. As Kevin Hanratty of Schneider Electric wrote, “hitting the mute button transforms the business analyst to a dad.”

How do we entrench empathy?

As so often when looking at changing attitudes to work and to working dads line managers seem to have a crucial role. The best employers will be training their staff in empathy. But line managers already have a lot on their plate. Adding empathy to their skillset needs to be achieved with, er, empathy!

Allyship

This one dovetails with issues around empathy. And it is a two way street.

Men need allies to achieve change. But the way to attract allies is to be one.

There’s a fascinating and sometimes fruity debate ongoing about networks. Questions about whether you should have a ‘gender network’ or a ‘women’s network’ may seem like navel gazing. But tiny steps, particularly use of language can make a difference. For an example of that see Yash Puri’s essay for ‘working dads and lockdown’. He was stunned by the number of men who wouldn’t take childcare days off work but were content to use their allowance when they were rebadged as ‘Covid days’.

There’s a theory that the best way to work towards gender equality is to encourage men to join their employers women’s network. That way they see the issues women encounter, identify with them, adopt them as their own struggle. We’ll ponder ideas like this and try to construct some best practice advice.

Umar Kankiya’s essay spoke powerfully to questions around allyship. It was one of the key takeaways from the Black Lives Matter protests that took place in the summer. But he also offered his own form of allyship. Dope Black Dads introduced a pledge for their members to sign up to. That they would do an hour more domestic work around the home each day. That’s how to be an ally to women. And making a more equal society for everyone needs mums and dads to look out for each other’s interests.

Flexible working

We are already industry experts on this at workingdads.co.uk, drawing on the years of experience of workingmums.co.uk. We have tons of research, reams of case studies, bountiful knowledge on what works and what doesn’t. But of course we must adapt that expertise to the new work environment.

We’ll consider what the new workplace might look like? What role will the office have? Do we need parliament to legislate to make all jobs flexible by default?

Crucially, men say they want more flexible working post coronavirus. Four in every five that responded to our 2020 survey said they were more likely to apply for flex post pandemic. But men have said this in surveys for some time. And take up remains low. We want to look at what works now. And at ways to encourage working dads and their bosses to really embrace flexible working. Let us know the benefits from your point of view and your ideas on how to promote flexible working successfully.

Employers

There is undoubtedly economic turbulence coming down the track. Even if coronavirus vaccines come on stream early in 2021. There will still be adaptation and rebuilding to be done.

The firms that thrive will be those most suited to the new environment. Companies like Zurich and Schneider Electric told us they were well placed to weather this year’s storms because they’d already embraced flexible working, supported working fathers in their workforce. But they know they’ll have to be agile to deal with the next normal.

We’ll look to help employers prepare for that. Offer best practice on what has worked. And what looks like it’ll be necessary in the future. From being more proactive in offering support to helping employees with their mental health. There’s lots to consider, we want to showcase employers doing it well and help those that want a helping hand to adapt.

The early years

The Fatherhood Institute raised concerns about men being excluded from antenatal appointments and even labour wards due to Covid protocols. That’s gone on to become a political flashpoint.

It’s frustrating at best and tragic at worst for new dads and dads-to-be. But it speaks to a wider attitude that dads are dispensable. When the evidence supports the opposite. That having a dad around is good for all members of the family. And if men are involved in parenting from the start they stay involved. We’ve seen through the pandemic that men who suddenly found themselves spending more time with their families than ever before enjoyed it. That’s why they want more of it, and flexible working is the way to provide it.

Some of the comments on our survey were heartbreaking and heartwarming in equal measure. The man who used his daily exercise in the spring lockdown to take a walk with his teenagers and really get to know them. That investment will serve them all well for the rest of their lives. The dad who said he’d spent more time with his family this spring than he had in the previous 12 years. Not only did he now appreciate all his partner had done to keep the home going all those years, he pledged he wouldn’t be going back to his old ways of working.

More paternity leave, properly funded is the way to let dads get involved from the start of their journey as a father. Keeping them involved frees up everyone economically and makes every member of the family happier.

The personal

The ‘working dads and lockdown’ series demonstrated again the huge pressure and stress working dads are under. Often they feel crushed between the weight of expectation at work and at home.

But just as the crush of geology produces diamonds so the stress of lockdown gave rise to some really useful nuggets. Two strategies in particular became clear.

Firstly, communication is key. Men are not raised to be great talkers. There is evidence that girls have a wider vocabulary and are better able to express their emotions from a young age. That is not due to brain science but gender stereotyping in the way we all treat boys and girls. Many men reported better conversations with their partners as they worked to manage the difficulties of lockdown and better relationships as a result. We want to help working dads communicate better.

And the importance of supportive networks and communities came to the fore. Umar Kankiya explained how weekly online meet ups of the Dope Black Dads community to check in and often just vent proved crucial to so many men’s mental health. We’ll look at how we can help working dads build those networks. To do that we want to hear your stories of help and support. And maybe we can put them into practice.

The other

There’s an appeal in even numbers. There’s seven points on the Building Back Better agenda as it stands. What should be the eighth? Get in touch in the comments or across social media to tell me what I’ve missed. What helped you or is currently keeping you afloat through lockdown? What’s the change you want to see? Tell us and we’ll work to make it happen.

Let’s get to work

This International Men’s Day will be like no other. It’s great that it’s grown from a slightly silly rebuke to feminism into a serious occasion to consider masculinity and gender equality.

In conclusion it’s worth mentioning the changing of the guard in The White House. Donald Trump represented one version of masculinity. Joe Biden – who has long championed work life balance and is revered for his empathy – represents something else.

But the most pertinent and powerful bit of the Biden campaign was his slogan. He and running mate Kamala Harris repeated the phrase throughout their election bid: “Let’s get to work.”

It’s an exhortation for the age. There will be much rebuilding to be done before the next International Men’s Day rolls around. Those of us who believe in a better way of working and living for working dads, mums and their families have the opportunity to shape that change. Let’s get to work.




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