Are we any closer now in achieving true parental balance at work?

parental balance, parental balance at work
© Kaspars Grinvalds

In recognition of National Work Life week, Han Son Lee, Founder of Daddilife, explores whether we are any closer to achieving true parental balance at work, or not

Lockdown has seen many strides in the way that dads work. We have had more flexibility to work from home than ever before. That may be harder for some people than others but many of us have enjoyed more family time and that looks likely to continue for some time to come. From a personal point of view, the past few months have certainly helped me understand what being present really meant with my son. I’ve found myself doing things I wouldn’t have previously thought of at all. Those who know me know I’m not much of a cyclist for instance, but not only did I cycle more, but even bought a bike trailer to spend some real quality time with my son too.

With National Work Life week upon us (12-16 October), it is a good time to look at how much things have really changed this year. Research that we conducted over the summer on dads in lockdown showed that more dads were appreciative of the quality time with family that lockdown has provided, with 25% actively looking at more flexible working practices post-COVID, and another 16% pursuing more remote working.

But while the last few months have had moments of triumph in a sea of change and at times home-schooling chaos, how much closer are we really to true equalisation at work for dads and parents/carers as a whole?

There are three areas that really need looking at if we are to see long term improvements for dads at work.

  1. Workplace Policy: many workplace policies are still written in a way that strongly infers that dads are a secondary parent. For instance, a common workplace policy is that dads that are only allowed to go to 2 out of the 3 antenatal appointments. While this may make sense on purely economic grounds, on basic human and father grounds, it doesn’t. How can employers claim to be treating dads as equal parents at work if they are not even allowed to attend all 3 antenatal appointments?
  2. Workplace Language: There is still a lot of lazy languages, and micro-aggressions when it comes to our unconscious bias of fathers in the workplace. I am still hearing stories from dads this year being told “Why can’t you just get the baby’s mum to do that?” when we say why we need to leave early or why we can’t make that two night away trip for work.

Workplace language has become a key focus in the battle for true diversity and openness at work, yet it seems that the role of modern-day fathers as parents has been overlooked when it comes to this equalisation. Can we really be surprised then when we ask men to speak up more about their role, but knowing that in doing so it puts them at higher risk of being called out?

  1. Being clear about red lines: Part of the challenge here is also to dads themselves. It’s true that men’s emotional language at work is very different from mums. The environments and safe spaces that provoke real transparency and progress often need men to go against some of their natural tendencies to simply stay quiet at work and not rock the boat. Dads need to start being more vocal about what success means for them. It might be a key occasion where you need to leave earlier or a work/home arrangement where you need to find the right balance. Whatever it might be, communicating it early, professionally is going to become even more of an imperative in the future.

There is clearly more to be done. If fathers want to achieve a real work/life balance and really see change in the workplace then we all need to be stronger at highlighting and calling out inconsistencies in the law around parenting and in workplace policy and culture. Government and employers also need to play their part to ensure that employment policies treat both parents in the same way and don’t make lazy assumptions about how modern families operate.

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