Richard Cahill is one of an increasing number of working dads who are pushing for greater change in the UK’s work culture. His wife is the main breadwinner in the family which means it makes financial sense for him to be the primary carer of the couple’s two children.
But it seems from Richard’s experience that there is still a long way to go to get employers to accept men working part time.
Richard did a master’s degree in economics, but after a couple of years as an economist, decided he needed to get “a career rather than a job”. He switched to working in corporate tax and spent the next nine years working in various firms in the City.
When his first daughter arrived, he changed jobs, moving from the City to a job just 20 minutes away from the family’s North London home so he could be around in case of emergencies. He was in that job for three years.
During that time, his wife became pregnant again and the couple decided to take Shared Parental Leave. Richard says if he had been aware of additional paternity leave he would have taken more time off when his daughter was born too. He says his employer was not very supportive and that he was “hounded” by his line manager about all aspects of the leave, from start dates to childcare arrangements following his return. “It was deeply upsetting and frustrating,” he says. “I felt I was doing something wrong.” Line managers were given training on how to support women coming back from maternity leave and women were welcomed back. There was no training for line managers of dads. Richard came back to a pile of photocopying and scanning work “to teach me a lesson”. “It left a bitter taste,” he says.
He raised the possibility of flexible working on an informal basis, but he got the impression it would not work out because senior management was “old school”. “They would probably say they are family friendly, though,” says Richard wryly. In the end, he states, he did not feel welcome in the organisation.
He returned in February this year and by July he had left his job. His daughter was just about to start school and he and his wife have no family living nearby to help out. His wife is an actuary and earns significantly more than him. “The logical step was for me to seek flexible working and I think that there will be more men going down this route as family dynamics continue to change,” he says. His wife is in her office in the City from 8.30am and often doesn’t get home until 8pm. The couple do not want their children to be looked after by nannies. “We didn’t have them to have someone else raise them,” says Richard.
Since July he has been looking for part-time work both in his field and outside it using his transferable skills. It has been much more difficult than he anticipated. He doesn’t want to go down the self employment role and says he enjoys the social side of going to work.
He has had several interviews, but the response from large and small employers when he mentions flexible working has been very negative. If he has mentioned working school hours, for instance, employers have asked why his wife is not picking up the kids.
On one occasion he was clear from the start that he wanted to work 28 hours a week. The employer said that was fine, but when they wrote to offer him the job the letter stated that it was for a 36-hour week. Richard replied that working 28 hours was important to him. “Everything went quiet. When I eventually got through to someone they said they thought I was not quite ready for the job,” says Richard. He was clear that it was blatant discrimination.
Richard posted about his experience on LinkedIn. “I felt people should know about it. It’s a real issue and it will only get bigger as more women become the main breadwinners. As it stands men will find it hard to get part-time working as it is still seen as the domain of women,” he says. He has spoken to HR people and he feels employers take a very stereotypical approach to flexible working: they are happy, he says, to let women do part-time jobs because they think the women won’t want to progress their careers and they assume that men will find a part-time job is not enough for them and will want to move on.
But Richard is not hugely ambitious. “I want a career, but I don’t want to run the world. My main driver is making sure my family are comfortable and have a family life,” he says.
He feels employers just haven’t got to grips with the social changes going on and says making it difficult for men to work part time is going to store up a lot of problems for the future. He states: “Employers need to think outside the box and think about why part-time roles only seem to be open to women. Employment is not working. It has not caught up with the modern world.”
*Richard will be blogging regularly on Workingmums.co.uk. Watch out for his first blog next week.