Fathers in the UK who wish to play a significant role in raising their children and seek parental leave or flexibility at work to do so are still hindered by outdated assumptions about gender roles and stigmas against fathers as active parents, according to a new report from the Women and Equalities Committee in the House of Commons. Despite the good intentions behind government efforts like the Shared Parental Leave scheme, the report says, these initiatives are not doing enough to enable fathers to work flexibly, the BBC reports:
“Workplace policies have not kept up with the social changes in people’s everyday lives,” according to committee chair Maria Miller, who describes “outdated assumptions” about men’s and women’s roles in relation to work and childcare” as a further barrier to change. …
The MPs found today’s fathers were doing a greater proportion of the childcare than ever before – but still only about half the amount women do – and men who are agency or casual workers are least likely to get flexible work that suits their childcare needs, as they don’t have access to full employment rights.
The report identifies several policy recommendations that could help improve the situation, such as advertising all jobs as flexible, augmenting rights for casual or agency workers, and improving paternity pay.
The Shared Parental Leave program, which gives new mothers (or “lead parents” in same-sex couples) a year of leave to divide between themselves and their partners in any proportion they choose, has suffered from persistently low take-up since its introduction three years ago. Critics blame the lackluster performance of the scheme on a lack of awareness, skewed financial incentives that discourage fathers from taking advantage of it, and fears among men that doing so would hold them back in their careers, as the committee’s report also found.
Writing at Personnel Today, Duncan Fisher, head of research, policy, and innovation at the Family Initiative, discusses why the initiative is failing and what businesses can do to promote a better approach:
Employers need to promote flexible working proactively to men. I regularly run workshops for fathers for big employers. I ask each time who is using the firm’s official flexible working policies and who is doing it “under the radar”. Invariably, only a tiny minority are using the official policies and everyone else is boxing and coxing, often showing remarkable creativity to sustain productivity and a relationship with their children at the same time.
A level playing field means fathers knowing as much about flexible working opportunities as do mothers and feeling just as able to use them. That means proactive communication in-house, with meetings, networks and regular communications specifically for fathers. All this has proved popular in other workplaces and, if advertised well, the announcements alone help to communicate a new message.
One way employers can make it easier for fathers (and mothers, caregivers, and other employees who need flexibility) to work flexibly is to make it an explicit feature of every role in the organization, like the Australian telecom company Telstra. Rather than waiting for employees to ask for flexibility, Telstra makes all of their roles flexible by default and requires managers who want to remove flexibility from a given role to explain why that role isn’t suitable for flexible work. For more information on Telstra’s All Roles Flex model, CEB Corporate Leadership Council members can read our full case study here.