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International Men’s Day and Equal Pay Day

International Men’s Day and Equal Pay Day

Two sides of the same equality coin

I’m writing this on the 18th November, one day before International Men’s day and somewhat ironically in the UK it is equal pay day, the day when women effectively (on average), stop earning relative to men because of the gender pay gap.  Why do I link these two things? Well, it is clear that rigid expectations about gender roles don’t benefit anyone. International Men’s Day often has a focus on men’s wellbeing and mental health and the damage that men suffer from an environment with rigid expectations about masculinity – highlighting that, for many men, the way work and society is organised doesn’t work for them.  Equal pay day starkly demonstrates that the way things are currently constructed really doesn’t work for women either.

Gender pay gap or motherhood penalty?

There are many reasons for the gender pay gap, but one of the undoubted accelerators is parenthood and the way in heterosexual partnerships there is a clear split along gender lines. This channels parents into pre-defined roles that may not ultimately suit their family set up and are very hard to break out of.  We know from our coaching with working parents, that many dads want to play a far greater role as caregivers. Conversely, as this post from our EMEA director, Clair Hodgson highlights many mums are fed up with the assumption that they will want to work part-time once they become a parent. Yet for both, there are structural barriers (in addition to a host of societal expectations about gender) that get in the way.

Barriers to equal caregiving

Despite expressing a huge desire to play a greater role as equal caregivers, it still doesn’t make sense for most dads to take on a greater care role at the point they become a parent because the impact on family finances is unsustainable.  As a result, take-up of extended parental leave by dads remains minimal.  Until equal parental leave is backed up with equal pay for both parents at a national policy level – rather than left to individual employers to bring in their own policies, families won’t really be able to make choices that are right for them on any basis other than financial expedience.

The implications for this are a continued entrenchment of gender roles. For mums this means a lasting impact on career progression and pay, the division of roles at home and the gender pensions gap. For dads, they are denied the opportunity to take on the full parental role they want and are often expected to carry on at work as though nothing has happened when they become a parent. One of the most frequent comments we get from dads on our programmes is that it is the first time they have had a chance to talk about their experience as a working father. Little wonder that mental health is always a feature of International Men’s Day when men are still largely discouraged from talking about profoundly important parts of their lives.

A glimpse into a different world

Covid has signalled a fundamental shift in the way (predominantly office-based work) is viewed and the traditional fixation on location has reduced.   On the one hand, many employees have experienced working from home for the first time and lots of research suggests they are unwilling to go back to a rigid office-only working pattern. On the other, many employers have grasped the potential of not being limited by location to the talent they can attract.  Covid meant working from home and working flexibly around other caring commitments became more gender-neutral and broke free of its association as something only applicable for working mothers.

One of the impacts of more fathers working from home during the pandemic was very clear in our courses for working dads during this time. Compared to the dads we coached pre-pandemic, this group really valued the extra time they were with their family. Significantly, however, they were also considerably more positive about their organisation than our pre-pandemic groups.  We saw rises in their feelings of being supported, feeling loyal and willingness to recommend their employer. Progressive policies that enable all parents to share care are often only framed in terms of the benefits to the parents and whilst this is undoubtedly true, our experience has been that they would also yield significant benefits for employers too.

Where next?

It would seem that change may just be possible as several forces collide to upturn the rigid gender roles associated with parenthood.  Will new dads who have had the experience of working from home during the pandemic, thus enabling them more time around their newborn really ever go back to accepting two weeks of paternity leave and then a return to work when their next child is born? Will employers, desperate to retain and progress staff move en masse to equalise enhanced parental leave, ahead of governments taking action?  Does the threat posed by the great resignation make flexibility a permanent feature of more working cultures?

While there is the risk that once we move on from the pandemic we all scuttle back to our previously entrenched positions, the momentum does seem to be for change. This can only help us move towards a future where International Men’s Day doesn’t have to shine a spotlight on men’s poor mental health and women don’t have to effectively work for free for part of the year.

Rachael Anderson

Head of Marketing, How Do You Do It

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