The challenges inherent in pursuing a career whilst caring for children seem to be overwhelmingly attributed to women; from press coverage to policy development, the focus tends to be on the mother’s struggle to find balance. It may be true that women are still taking the lion’s share of childcare responsibility, but traditional patterns of employment and parenting are changing and a growing number of men want to work fewer or flexible hours so that they can shoulder more childcare responsibility. But it seems employers have been slow to respond to this shift and many fathers report facing a negative bias and discrimination in the workplace.
What are the challenges fathers face?
The 2017 Modern Families Index found that men were more than twice as likely than women to think that flexible working would have a negative impact on their career. These findings are bolstered by a Plymouth University study that uncovered a trend in employers treating fathers who request flexible hours with suspicion, whereas mothers were praised for their dedication to balancing work and family commitments. In addition to this research, a recent article in The Guardian featured a number of fathers who said the discrimination they felt when trying to secure child-friendly working arrangements came primarily from their male colleagues.
What can employers do to help fathers?
Employers can ensure fathers’ quest for work-life balance is supported by developing an employee wellbeing strategy that addresses the challenges they face. For example, awareness campaigns can be developed that address the stigma associated with working fewer or flexible hours and bring about cultural change that makes it acceptable to prioritise family life. An ongoing investment in workplace health and wellbeing could include training in areas that are of particular benefit to parents such as financial planning, stress management and first aid, as well as on valuable topics such as teaching children emotional resilience.
How can women benefit from fathers working flexible/fewer hours?
The complex nature of family life means that the challenges mothers and fathers face can’t be viewed as separate issues; supporting fathers to invest more time in their children could be the most direct way of ensuring women have the freedom to work because responsibility for childcare is more fairly divided.
Maria Miller of the Women and Equalities Select Committee says: “Many fathers want to take a more active role in caring for their children and we have found that sharing caring responsibilities equally between mothers and fathers is the key to reducing the gender pay gap.”