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The battle for equality has taken many forms throughout history. Struggles for recognition of gender, race and more recently, age equality have been fought and won, eventually.
Often the battle for equality is not held back because of any lack of individual effort, but because of the assumed norms that underpin and reinforce inequality.
One area where norms are under pressure is over the role of fathers, with many questioning and rejecting the traditional male breadwinner model and reports of rocketing stress levels from those who are unable to get the work life balance they want.
It’s now a well documented fact that modern day fathers have very different expectations, goals and pressures when it comes to their role as dad.
There are more than 230,000 stay at home dads in the UK now. This figure has more than doubled in the last decade, and is one of the less reported, but very positive consequences of more mums returning back to the workplace. But what of the families where this isn’t always possible or effective?
I regularly hear of working fathers who wish they could spend more time at home and who want a better balance of their roles at work and at home. But all too often I also hear of companies who still see dads as the ones who need to be constantly ‘present’ in the workplace, where leaving at 17:00 is shunned and where requests for more flexible ways to work are laughed at. All of this is creating a tension when dads are actually doing more both at home and at work.
A recent study suggested 72% of working dads feel constantly at breaking point. There is a fatherhood penalty emerging for those who downshift their career in order to spend more time with the family.
The solution for many is more flexible forms of work. But things are never quite as simple as that. When Daddilife previously reported on burnout we said that there were two vital questions employers needed to ask:
How can employers give their employees who are dad confidence that it is not a sign of weakness to start talking about burnout or flexible working?
How can we make employers address these difficult questions in busier work environments?
While there are parenting networks present across the UK that create a dedicated community for working parents, I would like to hear more success stories where dads have been involved or even perhaps started a dads group at work. With more dads-only clubs emerging throughout the UK, perhaps there is a space to learn more about workplace networks that give dads a voice in workplace policy and practice.
Other issues to consider for employers include having a senior sponsor for dads in the workplace similar to the ones for mums networks. Do the sponsors for mums and dads networks need to be different people?
Starting the conversation, and keeping that conversation going, is the only way that workplace environments are going to progress and change for the better.
In an age where there are daily developments affecting how we work – from virtual offices to AI-driven HR, we need to make sure that we create the right conditions for dads who want to be more active as parents to be as productive as possible. Gender equality for women in the workplace is surely linked to dads being enabled to do more at home. Employers need to connect the dots.
*Han-Son Lee is founder of Daddilife, a blogging site for dads. Look out for Workingmums.co.uk’s new e-book on how to recognise dads at work.