I recently read Anne-Marie Slaughter’s book ‘Unfinished Business’ on the problems still facing working parents today. She states that women cannot ‘Lean In’. if there is no other parent/carer ‘Leaning Out’. This is similar to what Annabel Crabb surmises in her book ‘The Wife Drought’ ie that to enable more women to get ahead in their career they need a ‘wife’ or primary carer at home to look after the house and children/dependents. Both authors propose that the only way anyone has been able to spend the time and effort to succeed in their career (and who wants a family as well) is to have someone else looking after the family/house at home.
In the UK, 90% mothers now work, and in almost 50% of couples, women now earn at least as much as their partners (The Guardian). For mothers to be able to rise further in their careers, they need partners to be able to share the load and the care at home. But working fathers are concerned about taking parental leave, carers leave or working part-time, as they are worried about the message and perception that this will send to management about their commitment to their careers (sounds exactly like what working mothers have been worried about for years!)
According to the Office of National Statistics (ONS), just under a million working fathers now actively choose to work part-time (a threefold rise since 1995), and probably there are many more ‘under the radar’ (The Guardian). The idea of going part-time still has ‘a huge brand problem’ and many don’t want to go public on the annual worrying about what people will think (The Guardian). Working fathers are also worried that they won’t be seen as ‘masculine enough’ or that women will not be attracted to them if they want to stay home with the kids.
To help dads assist with care, the UK Government passed legislation in April 2015 that allows dads to share parental leave with mums for up to 52 weeks, with a total of 39 weeks paid (The Guardian). But projected take-up by Dads is low – while 90% men liked the idea, 33% felt that managers wouldn’t be sympathetic and 20% worried about being made fun of and damaging their career prospects (The Guardian). Whether we like it or not, in British society, fathers are still primarily defined through their careers, while mothers are seen first and foremost as carers of our children.
This projection has been proven in Australia where two-and-half-years after Australia’s Labor government offered a parental leave programme for new mums and dads, only one dad for was taking it (0.2%). In the UK since 2003, have chosen not to take the parental leave offered (The Guardian). This is all while the work of caring for children goes completely unrecognised in the UK tax system (unlike the vast majority of OECD countries) and unpaid care is valued at £343bn per year by the ONS (The Guardian).
Evidence from Iceland, Norway and Sweden, which pioneered shared leave, suggests men take leave en masse only when nudged by the introduction of a “daddy only quota” of days earmarked for fathers only (something the UK government rejected) (The Guardian) If the working dad doesn’t take the leave, then it is forfeited and cannot be taken by the mother. In Sweden, this legislation has meant paternity leave take-up has been as high as 85%. The more leave men take when their children are young, the more with their relationship with their child – and the more likely they are to remain involved in childcare after their return to work.
At our company How Do You Do It, we believe that we need to help working fathers negotiate this parental transition. We assist them to build skills, understanding and social proof that working dads DO want to be more active fathers and that they CAN do it. Our Working Parent Programmes have specialised in mothers and fathers from the start, so this area is not a recent addition for us. We have been working with dads for the whole 10 years we have been in business, even before it was seen as something as important as it is now . The take-up of our established Working Father programmes is increasing rapidly as more and more working fathers want to be active, hands-on parents and support their partners to engage more fully in their own careers.
Here’s some typical feedback from dads about what they’ve gained from our programmes :
The programme really puts working fathers in the spotlight, giving recognition to the fact that it’s not always easy and that there are stresses not just for working mothers but for dads as well.
I feel like I have developed a greater empathy for my wife at home and other working mothers in the firm, which will make me a better working dad and supervisor/manager.
We would love to hear from any parents who want to comment on their shared care arrangements as to what works and what more is needed. Or give us any other ideas that you think would be useful to help working parents manage their caring responsibilities.
1 Sheryl Sandberg, Facebook COO and author of ‘Lean In’