A lot is said about what flexible working offers a working mum, but what’s in it for dad?
When my son was born in the mid 90’s I was working for a large organisation in a management role. At that point, working away from the office wasn’t always easy because the technology was a lot more unstable than it is now (leaving the whole thorny issue of culture aside), but I was lucky. I was able to work flexibly and spent a lot of my time home based.
What that meant for me was that I was able to see many more of those golden moments than might otherwise have been the case. I was the one that he took his very first unsupported step towards. I can’t remember if I heard his first word or not, but if not I certainly heard his second or third. I was able to see him during the day, whenever I took a break, rather than just at weekends or in the evening (when, frankly, we both tended to be tired and grumpy) and I was there to help with many of the crisis points.
In between all of this enjoying-being-a-dad stuff, work still happened. It happened during the normal working day, and quite often in the evenings. My team got together when we needed to, we spoke often and we made full use of the somewhat basic technology we had at the time to hold conference calls and share documents. When I needed to be in front of a customer or at a face to face meeting then I was there. When I didn’t need to be physically present, I wasn’t. The fact was that I travelled on business quite often, but around that I had choice and was encouraged to say “no” to a face to face meeting when an alternative would work as well or better.
So, 20 years later how far have we progressed? Truth is it’s a bit of a mixed bag. At this years Workingmums.co.uk Top Employer Awards, one of the audience members asked how men can promote equality in the workplace, and enjoy the benefits themselves of a family friendly approach, when they carry the baggage of so many male stereotypes. It was a good question, especially since it came from someone with their entire working life ahead of them. In fact it was a great question because it made everyone pause for thought. What it brought home to me was that we need to try harder, to fight more for equality in the workplace, and we really are all in this together. Equality means not only that we ensure fair treatment and equal opportunity for working mums, but also that working dads get to enjoy the “life” part of the work-life balance. We get to outgrow the stereotype.
My advice therefore is still what it was 20 years ago. Sell the benefits of flexible working hard to your company, enjoy the benefits to yourself, be proud of the outputs you produce and don’t be afraid to push your colleagues to learn to use the tools for collaboration that are almost certainly available to them. Above all, don’t be shy about pushing for change, no matter who you are.
*Dave Dunbar is Head of Digital Workplace at Nationwide Building Society and a judge on the Workingmums.co.uk Top Employer Awards.