Organisations embrace fast-changing gender roles

More and more dads are staying at home and looking after children, according to a recent survey by Aviva. As many mums become the main breadwinners, forward-thinking companies are looking at ways to both keep dads motivated and allow them to be more involved with their children.

More and more dads are staying at home and looking after children, according to a recent survey by Aviva.

One of the principal reasons is the growing earning power of women. An increasing number are the main breadwinners in their partnerships so it makes economic sense for them to work and for the couple to save on childcare by leaving that to dads.

Although this applies only to a minority of dads, the speed of the changes going on in UK family life begs some interesting questions. Are employers and policymakers keeping up with the changes? Should more be done to target dads with childcare information and with flexible working, for instance?

A recent conference by the Working Families charity highlighted some organisations who are looking to target dads more.

A briefing paper prepared by the charity talks of the need to involve dads more in their children’s lives, particularly in the early years. It also highlights the growing number of women working and the growing number of divorces/separations which mean fathers may be less able to rely on mums to manage the father/child relationship.

In addition, changing social attitudes suggest more men want to be directly involved with and share the upbringing of their children, even if they are still likely to be working long hours.

Research shows 60% are still working over 40 hours a week and than men are more likely to have flexible work requests turned down. They are also less likely to apply.

Working Families says part of the reason may be that they have seen what the so-called mummy track does for your career. In addition, they do not have as much protection if they have a flexible work request turned down since they are less likely to claim indirect sex discrimination, as women can.

“This sends a subtle signal that men’s rights around flexible working in the workplace are not considered as important as those of women,” says the briefing paper.

Work life balance

Given all this, it is little surprise therefore that surveys from the US show that dads are experiencing work life conflict than mums, especially in families where both parents work.

It is also interesting to note that many dads feel low levels of engagement at work, lower than that of other employees, and are less motivated.

One response has been the campaign to raise the level of paternity pay to match maternity pay. Many men don’t take paternity leave, mainly for financial reasons. If they were paid normal salary levels on paternity leave they would be more likely to take it, it is argued.

Working Families says that there are strong business arguments to increase flexible working for dads.

“Denying them the opportunity to be more flexible, either through overt or subconscious cultural mechanisms, might be a losing strategy; you might keep them at work for a longer time, but the quality of that time will be negatively affected.

And old employer of choice arguments may gain new currency if men start to compare workplaces on the availability and acceptability of work-life balance arrangements,” it says, concluding:

“Men hold the key to greater flexibility for all, and through this, to better business performance.”

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