As much as the dads in our life adore handmade pencil holders and macaroni ties, a different kind of gift would tug at their heartstrings this year – gender equality. Turns out it’s not just for mums.
Although working dads don’t get the “How do you do it?” question as much as working mothers, if at all, many people still roll their eyes or shrug when talk turns to paternity leave or paternal work benefits. There’s no sugar coating it – the assumption is that women will assume the majority of childcare responsibilities.
This explains in part the disparities between men’s and women’s involvement in the workplace: almost three times as many women as men work part-time; women are often passed up for leadership positions or senior roles because they take time off (sometimes years) to care for young children; and these childcare-related disparities are reflected in things like wage inequality.
The Australian Bureau of Statistics recently released its final instalment of the Gender Indicators series, which asks men and women questions ranging from economic security to health, safety and education. One category is work and family balance. Some of the numbers aren’t surprising, but a couple of stats stood out. One is that women spend twice as much time caring for children than men. Another is that 16.3 per cent of men feel their work and family responsibilities are rarely or never in balance.
There is a clearly a disparity between how childcare is distributed, but studies such as this one and others cited later in this piece prove that women aren’t the only ones struggling to have it all. The face of fatherhood and the definition of ‘family man’ are rapidly evolving, but businesses lag behind in adjusting to these changes. So what are the hurdles working fathers have to overcome in the workplace? Here are some of the biggest ones.
Paid paternal leave
More companies are telling fathers to put down their work and pick up their baby, as paternal leave becomes the benefit du jour for many companies. However, this offering is still far from the norm. Providing new fathers paid paternity leave – and encouraging men to take any type of offered paternity benefits – results in a more equal distribution of parenting responsibilities, and thus greater gender equality within the workplace.
Dads who take paternity leave are more likely to remain involved in childcare long after the leave period ends, and this bodes well for their children: A study conducted by the University of Oslo in Norway has shown that children’s learning development benefits from having dad around. And smart children become smart adults, who then become smart employees.
Lack of flexible working options
Men might desire more balance in their lives, but there is still a taboo around working dads leaving early, arriving late or working from home. Men’s requests for flexible work arrangements are knocked back at twice the rate of women. Research conducted by the University of Oregon in the US has shown that men who reduce work hours for family reasons (ie taking on childcare responsibilities) face a ‘flexibility stigma’ that limits future career opportunities.
Another study conducted by Boston College in the US found that close to 70 per cent of fathers surveyed felt child caring responsibilities should be split equally between both parents, but this desire was not recognised or supported by company policies or cultures. Diversity Council Australia found that having the flexibility to manage family and personal life is one of the top five job characteristics valued by men, and that 18 per cent of those surveyed have thought about leaving their job because of a lack of flexibility.
We should not discount the barriers women face in the workplace regarding equality, but ‘gender’ is often synonymous for ‘women’, and it’s time to change that. Persistent gender biases see men valued for their work and earning capabilities rather than the role they play in their children’s lives, and this creates a narrow path for working fathers to tread. For any paternal leave or benefit policy to be effective, attitudes in business and society at large need to change about the value dads can bring to home life, not just work life.
What are your thoughts? Is the debate over working dads right on target? Or is it all just a bunch of hype?