Women need to do more to secure workplace rights for dads, a webinar heard the other day. Well, that’s all very well, but I’ve been in countless meetings over the last year about workplace rights for dads – mainly Shared Parental Leave – and they are absolutely dominated by women. Women get that they need to stand up for dads’ rights and that dads’ rights at home are inextricably linked to women’s rights in the workplace. What we need is surely for EVERYONE to stand up for dads’ rights.
I don’t want to get dragged into a slanging match with dads, but women have got enough to do just standing up for their own rights – which are under acute attack – at the moment. Yes, dads’ rights are a part of that and that is why there is a huge drive by every organisation that has been fighting for the normalisation of flexible working, the vast majority driven by women, for the kind of flexibility we have seen over the last months to be embedded in hybrid working and more remote working generally. Women are absolutely aware that if it is only women who are enabled to work remotely the two-tier system that operates with regard to flexible working where flexible workers are sidelined and not promoted could just get worse.
What we need is for parents generally to be more organised. That means mums and dads coming together to lobby on everything from flexible working to equal parental leave and transparency over parental leave.
In her new book, More Than A Woman, Caitlin Moran says that if men are unhappy with the status quo breadwinner role, they need to organise for change more. The problem is that they don’t have the networks women have been honing for years, she says. This honing is, of course, in response to the old boys’ network which is built on the traditional power paradigm. It tends to include all the things associated with old-style power – including the idea that showing emotion makes you weak – which crush many individuals. Men who want to change that paradigm and who want to step outside the breadwinner model need to organise to challenge that. Moran writes that men “have no network”. “They have no way of talking about their problems – what saddens them, what they would like to change. They have no way to ask each other questions, and find answers. They have not found a way to challenge the patriarchy. They are, essentially, stuck with the lives of their fathers and grandfathers.”
As mothers of boys, as sisters, as partners, as daughters, many women are acutely aware of the damage this model can wreak. I certainly want my son to have many more possibilities than the model allows and I love my son to infinity and beyond. The desire to change things comes from a position of loving men, not the opposite, of loving people generally, because the impact is damaging for everyone.
It is definitely true that dads can find it harder to get flexible working due to cultural norms that assume women are the main carers of children, but it was hard for women in the early days. Yes, they didn’t face the assumptions that dads come up against that someone else should be doing the care, but they did face a lot of assumptions that they should essentially be at home looking after the kids and not in work at all.
Now is the time to really push for more general change. If many employers are too stressed about the economic disaster they are facing and are being more inflexible as a result, we must all join forces and present them with the evidence that flexibility does not dent performance – in fact the opposite. I’ve spent the last week on calls and emails to women who are being told their employer will not shift an inch on flexibility, even though there is no wraparound care available. I know many employers are being great and very flexible, but there are also many who aren’t and the stress it is causing is immense at an already extremely anxious time.
The more of us who urge employers to think again, who come up with flexible solutions to their problems, who show them the evidence, the more we can alleviate some of that stress. Because otherwise we are headed for one almighty collective breakdown and that is just not good for parents, for society generally or for business.