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Dads need new rights that allow them to make a proper choice about how involved they want to be in their children’s lives and they need to be made more aware of the rights they already have, MP Gavin Shuker told the Workingmums.co.uk’s Top Employer Awards on Tuesday.
The Awards, which celebrate the best employers in family friendly working, saw a big focus on dads as workingmums.co.uk’s founder Gillian Nissim announced plans to launch a workingdads.co.uk site to promote information and flexible jobs to fathers, citing research showing growing demand from dads for flexible working.
Shuker’s keynote speech focused on how expectations of men and men’s expectations about themselves are changing and how more and more dads want to play an active role in their children’s lives. Stating that equality was good for everyone, Shuker, a member of the Women and Equalities Committee, said over 30 Parliaments around the world had dedicated equality committees and that it was essential to find ways of making them effective. “The need for equality has never been more important,” he said, citing regular reports of sexual harassment and unequal treatment in the media. But gender equality would not be solved by seeing it as purely a women’s issue, he stated. It was about deeper structural issues.
Shuker spoke his own personal experience of being a working dad, saying he carved out as much time as he could with his five-year-old daughter, but that, even with long Parliamentary recesses, it was very challenging. There were no maternity or paternity leave rights for MPs, for instance. The lack of family friendly policies contributed to low numbers of women in Parliament, he said.
Shuker recognised that progress towards greater equality had been made since he became an MP in 2010. Then the gender pay gap was a niche issue, he said. Not now. That showed the power of legislation, he said, even if it was sometimes a blunt instrument. “The presence of legislation says something about what we value as important,” he stated. Nevertheless, change was not happening quickly enough to reflect the state of modern families and to keep in step with their expectations, he said.
The Women and Equalities Committee report on dads, published earlier this year, made several recommendations which aimed to improve the lives of working families, including promoting dads’ ante-natal rights more widely. Many dads did not know they could take time off for ante-natal visits, said Shuker. The Committee also called for dads to have a day one right to paternity leave, including self-employed dads. Shuker said the Government was currently giving “the wrong message” that being a parent was more important for women than men.
The Committee also called for dads to get the same rate of statutory paternity pay as women got with statutory maternity pay, enabling dads to make a proper choice about whether they had time off with their babies. Shuker criticised Shared Parental Leave, calling it “pretty anaemic” and said it had not been effectively promoted. It needed a major overhaul, he said. It needed to have 12 weeks of the leave ring-fenced specifically for dads on ‘a use it or lose it basis’ and paid at SMP levels. It might not be cheap in the short term, said Shuker, but the long term benefits were clear, for instance, it would mean mums being able to come back to work earlier and not having to take career breaks which would impact their future, including their pensions.
Shuker added that he wanted flexible working to be a day one right so that it was normalised. “We are at a crossroads with regard to parenting and the changes parents want would benefit everyone,” he said. However, businesses could not change things on their own, he said; legislation was needed to back up the drive towards change. He stated: “It should not be the case that I am lucky because when my daughter is ill I can work flexibly. It should be normal practice. It should not be controversial. There is cross-party support for this. We have seen how other countries have thrived [through family friendly policies]. We can do the same.”
The keynote speech was followed by a panel discussion on issues relating to flexible working and gender diversity. The panellists were Gavin Shuker; Top Employer Award judges Andy Lake, editor of Flexibility.co.uk; Jennifer Liston-Smith, Director/Head of Coaching and Consultancy at My Family Care; Dave Dunbar, Head of Digital Workspace at the Department of Work and Pensions; and Clare Kelliher, Professor of Work and Organisation at Cranfield School of Management; and Sharon Hague, Senior Vice President of Pearson which sponsored the session.
Topics included how to keep the momentum going on improving the gender pay gap. Sharon Hague said it was about talking publicly about the challenges. “Having conversations makes a difference,” she said. Pearson has just launched The Way We Work, a series of conversations with colleagues around the world. Around 5,000 Pearson employees in 40 countries registered to take part in October’s conversation about returning to work. Hague said men needed to be encouraged to talk more about their experiences as dads and to feel more comfortable about doing so. “It will take woman and men working together to ensure equal opportunity,” she said.
Dave Dunbar said the momentum was now with gender pay gap issues, but those such as presenteeism were getting worse with some big companies recalling homeworkers, for instance. He said it was important to talk about flexible working successes. Atkins said it had got greater numbers of dads working part time due to encouraging men to be part of the flexible working conversation.
Shuker said legislation backed up what society valued and that politics was more than just worrying about GDP. He remarked that David Cameron’s interest in measuring happiness had been an interesting development and said he would value a wider conversation about work and family life. Clare Kelliher said research showed there was a business benefit of promoting better work life balance for employees. “There are real measurable benefits from people achieving a better work life balance,” she said. “If people in the workplace are not having to deal with conflicts that create stress in their lives there are benefits. We are not always told about the evidence of the benefits. We all have a responsibility to share the results of those benefits.”
The panel was asked about the future of work. Would it involve more gig work and portfolio careers? Jennifer Liston-Smith, who chaired the Q & A session, said teenagers were already used to collaborating remotely through taking part in global computer games. McDonald’s said more flexible ways of working were not just about young people. It was looking at changing the age dynamics at its restaurants through reaching out to parent returners and more mature workers, creating a more multigenerational workforce.
Hague said Pearson was examining how to prepare young people for the future of work through encouraging more digital literacy skills in its curricula. It was also looking to address gender equality in its products, for instance, by ensuring males and females were equally represented in maths and science questions. In addition, it was exploring including units about entrepreneurial skills, such as understanding taxes as well as issues linked to flexible working.
Andy Lake said it was vital for people to learn how to run a business. He added that government legislation seemed to be contradicting itself, on the one hand promoting the kind of independence and enterprise needed for smart working and on the other making the tax regime more challenging for the self employed without providing them with any additional rights. He wasn’t sure Labour’s approach was any more forward-looking, he said, since it seemed to be focused mainly on the model of the unionised employee. His new book, The future of work and us, will deal with how people can navigate the complexities of 21st century working, for instance, how to work with gig platforms. These would require more entrepreneurial skills which were traditionally not encouraged for women.
Clare Kelliher said that work life balance issues were very different for those on temporary, more insecure contracts than for traditional employees. Some of the former chose to be on those contracts, but for others there was little choice. Policy needed to be rethought, she said, so that it took account of people working in non-traditional employment models.
MUTU System Limited said encouraging enterprise and flexibility brought business benefits – they got 150% out of their team members through giving them more freedom and control over how they worked. There was no cost; in fact they felt they got more back in terms of productivity.
There was also a discussion around recruitment and the need for employers to trust their employees from recruitment onwards in order to change work culture and encourage enterprise.
Dave Dunbar commented that recruitment technology could end up curtailing diversity and filtering people out if it was not used properly for instance, to increase diversity by opening the search to more remote workers. It was not so much about the technology, though, but the application of it, he stated.
Julianne Miles of Women Returners added that returner programmes were creating a ripple effect by encouraging more discussion about flexible working at the point of recruitment. Sarah Jackson, formerly CEO of Working Families, said its ‘happy to talk flexible working’ tag had also made a difference, opening up the conversation at the recruitment stage and widening the talent pool.
For Roche, the evidence was clear that having diverse teams was good for business and that meant that the recruitment process had to be more open. Technology was getting more sophisticated and could help ensure people who had soft skills such as cooperation and collaboration rather than just narrow technical competence were included in the talent pool.