Have we reached a tipping point for working dads and equality?

man and woman working having coffee outside
Parent Work Thrive is also on Twitter @parentwrkthrive

Working dads have been in the news recently – and it feels as though something new is happening:

  • The government proposed a raft of measures aimed at increasing the number of dads taking Shared Parental Leave – and called for a culture change in how fathers are viewed in the workplace
  • An article in Shortlist magazine featured a project by The Fatherhood Institute which has found that dads want to be equal parents with mums, and – perhaps more surprisingly – feel excluded by a lot of the baby industry, and dislike being praised for doing what they see as standard parenting
  • A Guardian article exposed the resistance men can encounter in the workplace when they want work that fits around their families – and suggested that “women’s secret weapon in the fight for equality could be arguing for better workplace rights for fathers”
  • Flexible and part-time recruitment agency Ten2Two put forward their first all-male shortlist for a flexible role

Are the old attitudes and stereotypes beginning to break down?  Are we seeing a cultural shift as a new generation of dads emerges who believe in equality at home and work? And want to share the parenting on an equal basis with mums?

And as a result, are we seeing a shift in the national conversation about working mums? Dads haven’t been a focus until recently, probably for the simple reason that mums have had it worse!  Historically mums have taken on the majority of the parenting and household responsibility, with a corresponding impact on their careers.

But if women are to succeed at work and have a fulfilling home life it requires dads to do exactly what they are starting to do in bigger numbers: take equal responsibility at home and demand flexibility at work where they need it.

The shift in conversation and behaviour is huge, for a number of reasons:

Dads are beginning to demand some of the working practices that women have been fighting for:  flexible / reduced hours, parental leave, the ability to do childcare drop-offs and pickups.  In fact, time to share in their children’s lives.

They are also starting to confront some of the same issues:  worries about career gaps, discrimination, or assumptions being made about their commitment or ambition if they ask for working hours that fit their family life.

This has at a stroke potentially doubled the number of people who are looking for ways to combine demanding careers and home responsibilities – and moves it on from being a ‘women’s issue to an ‘everyone’ issue.  It will also have more than doubled the number of people in or moving towards senior management (based on gender pay gap numbers) who have experienced the need for flexibility at work and equal roles at home.

It also starts to create a new model for the future, as more and more children grow up with the example of parents who work and live in this way.  Long term this should reduce the motherhood pay penalty and the gender pay gap, and increase quality of life for families. 

It is a huge cultural shift, and to start with will feel uncomfortable – which is what we’re seeing with dads now – as everyone figures out their new roles (and remember we are unpicking centuries of social conditioning).

But the tide is turning, both in the national conversation and in families’ behaviour – and it will be exciting to see what happens

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