Working fathers today are far more involved in their children’s lives than ever before and in families where both partners work, sharing the work and family juggle has become a necessity. Perceptions of modern fatherhood are slowly changing, but dependent on what your job is and where you work, there are still cultural and economic barriers to achieving equality at home and shared parenting.
Research on fathers taking parental leave is limited. According to a recent report, in 2013, only a third of eligible fathers chose to take the Dad and Partner Pay entitlement of 2 weeks that was introduced to help fathers bond with their new babies and support their partners.
Unsurprisingly Nordic countries lead the way, particularly the nations that have implemented shareable parental leave and ‘father’s quotas’. In Iceland, 28% of new dads take their shared leave entitlements which are a generous 5 months for each parent with an additional 2 months to be shared across both.
Beyond childbirth and the first year, dads feel stigmatised if they want to become the primary caregiver or want to work more flexibly around their families. You are seen as ‘Hero Dad’ if you are leaving early to attend a school event or footy game but face greater prejudice than most women if you want to be a ‘Stay At Home Dad’.
There is also the reality of financial pressures and the gender pay gap. As Australian men earn on average 17.3% more than women, the risk of a reduction in salary, missing out on pay rises or losing their jobs will have a bigger impact on the family. Income is the deciding factor when new parents are figuring out who looks after the children, if both parents are returning to work and in what capacity.
As the need for shared parenting increases throughout the school years the percentage of fathers who request flexible work drops to just 15% when compared to mothers. Fathers need support and access to take parental leave and ask for flexible working arrangements.
What do we need to do to make change happen?
To mainstream flexibility, bravery and trust is needed at an organisational and individual level. There needs to be a collective focus with all partners involved in the conversation.
- You can't be what you can't see – we need active role models
- Change starts from the top - the most senior person needs to be an open advocate
- Challenge the excuses around what client demands really are
- Normalise different experiences by sharing real life stories
- Ensure flex is for everyone not just parents
- Change how performance is valued - focus on outcomes
- Consciously redesign jobs & projects to focus on capability & availability
- Blurring formal and informal flex so it’s all just ‘flex’
- Reduce reliance on policies to set the boundaries and rules - trust people
- Focus on creating a cultural shift to change behaviour, if you wait for policies to change the behaviour we’ll be waiting a long time.
Where To Next?
At A Human Agency we are committed to designing HR differently. There truly are many shapes and sizes of flexible work and with careful consideration every organisation irrespective of industry, size or location can build a culture that supports flexible work in a meaningful way. Want to know more? Drop Kat an email at firstname.lastname@example.org.