How do we get more dads in the room at events for parents – and even events which are about dads? There are a lot of feminist groups lobbying for changes to parental leave to make it easier for dads to have a greater work life balance and take a more equal role in childcare. Surveys show that this is increasingly what dads want and more and more women are working full time after having children, meaning there is greater sharing of care.
For many dads, the assumption still persists that they shouldn’t do anything less than full-time hours – that’s for the women. Then there is Shared Parental Leave. The main problem with it is an economic one. It’s only paid at the statutory rate, unless employers enhance it and most don’t. Moreover, it is not really about sharing. It is about women giving up their leave. And the take-up is still very low. That’s unlikely to change significantly. Research suggests that well paid standalone leave for dads given on a use it or lose it basis is the most likely route to success, but the Government remains wedded to SPL – in large part because nothing is going to move on parental leave with Brexit on the horizon. It’s not only taking up all the bandwidth of Government, but it’s unlikely there will be any commitments about extra expenditure on leave with an uncertain economic future ahead.
Despite this stasis it is important to keep rolling the rock up the hill and do whatever can be done to push for change. So why aren’t more dads in the room at lobbying events? Why aren’t there more dad activists? One big reason is that the whole parenting and equality has been so dominated by women’s groups because of social expectations, now changing, and the reality on the ground: women facing discrimination after getting pregnant or having children. Workingmums.co.uk by its very name is about mums, but that reflects where the demand was coming from. It’s a classic chicken and egg situation.
Things have changed very rapidly in the last few years. Parenting is a joint endeavour – there are no working mums without working dads. Pushing for greater flexibility, for quality flexible jobs which allow for progression, for true work life balance, for real choices about parental leave, for more equal workplaces, for greater involvement of dads in the everyday lives of their children, these are all things that require a coming together of mums and dads. This is not about blaming either mums or dads – we’ve all been caught in the shifting tides of social expectations and these expectations are reflected in both policy and practice. It’s time to modernise them, to broaden what is possible, so that they are fit for the 21st century.
This is about all our futures and about the future of our children. We need to talk about how we all get to be in the room.
*Mum on the run is Mandy Garner, editor of Workingmums.co.uk.