We all know the stereotype. The stressed out working parent who must leave the office early to do the school run, arrives late because their kids were being difficult, who needs to work from home regularly, and takes time off at short notice because their child is sick.
Now be honest – are you picturing a working mother or a working dad?
We often see working mums and dads differently, often unconsciously. But the point remains that stigma in the workplace very much exists. Working mothers are more likely to have taken a career break and work part time than working fathers. This is one of the sources of the gender pay gap, which sees men out earning women by somewhere around 18%.
But while fathers are doing well financially from this imbalance, they suffer in other ways.
The recent Fathers and the workplace report from the UK government’s Women and Equalities Committee found that “men are less likely to make a request” for flexible working, and “are more likely than women to have their request rejected when they do”.
The report also found that in the UK there is “a culture in which traditional gender roles prevail; where men are viewed as the breadwinner and women as the primary carer for their children”. Such attitudes negatively affect both mothers – who may find career prospects narrowed – and fathers – whose desire to be a bigger part of their children’s lives can be stifled.
Flexible working for parents needs to stop being seen as a women’s issue, and become a parent’s issue.
How do we get more dads to embrace a better work-family balance?
Firstly, more dads need to ask – demand even – working arrangements which allow a better work-life balance. If you’re in a workplace where you see mothers doing this, dads have every right to seek equal treatment. It should be an expectation and not the exception.
But HR need to step up too. As well as approving flexible working requests from fathers, workers need to see working dads taking time out to do the school run, to work from home, taking time off at short notice because their kid is sick – and even arriving late because their kids were being difficult.
And these dads need to make sure staff know about it when it’s happening – whether it’s sending group emails, messages, or even just a loud ‘see you tomorrow’ when you leave the office early, instead of slinking off. Don’t be embarrassed about being a parent and what that means in the workplace. Be proud of it.
If we start now developing a culture of acceptance, then we will have progressive expectations of what it means to be a working father. And whether that means expecting more of themselves or their partner – they will also be expecting more from their employer. If enough people think this way, then these currently regressive workplace cultures will have to change too.