The number of working mums hit a record high in the UK in 2019 with 75% of mums in paid work₁. Despite the increase of mums in work outside the home, they still handle the majority of unpaid work inside the home, including childcare. The struggle for working mums is real and rightly discussed at length.
But what about dads? Often they’re dismissed and stigmatised; considered not to be doing enough to support the gender balance debate. We take a look to see what’s happening for dads in their efforts to achieve a better work-life balance.
Dads are more hands-on with their children and around the home than ever before; 3% of dads admitted to never changing a nappy in 2018, compared to 43% in 1982₂.
Dads want to be more involved with their children; The Helping Dads Care Research Project found 85% of fathers “would do anything” to spend more time caring for their children₂. Fathers would also like to work flexibly just as much as mothers to fit around their commitments, 74% of fathers compared to 79% of mothers₃.
Despite the desire dads have to work flexibly and take more care of their children, the reality is very few do. Only 31% took parental leave last year₄, whilst 53% of self-employed fathers took no time off at all after their child arrived₅.
So what’s keeping dads from taking the time they want to be with their families?
More than half of fathers said financial concerns were the biggest reason they didn’t take more time away from paid work to care for their children₅.
Statutory paternity pay in the UK sitting at £148.68 per week or 90% average earnings, whichever is lower₅, many cannot afford to take time off to bond with their child and support their partner.
Statutory paternity pay is only two weeks long and the financial sacrifice of taking any more time off is too much for most families when both mother and father want to spend more time with their child.
The government’s introduction of shared parental leave (SPL) in 2015 has not made the positive impact it was designed to. Most probably because it too offers minimum statutory pay and has been shrouded with complexities that parents and employers have struggled to get their heads around. Consequently, only 2% of eligible couples have opted for SPL₆.
One standalone option has made a difference: In 2018 Aviva revolutionised its policy for parental leave by offering both men and women equal pay and leave. Employees can take six months off at full basic pay after the arrival of a child. The difference in uptake was significant; two-thirds of eligible fathers took the whole six months₅.
Men taking time off paid work to be fathers and supportive partners is still culturally unacceptable in the UK. Men are overtly or covertly discouraged from taking parental leave₁. Anecdotal evidence tells us that new fathers who immediately returned to work after their child arrived were congratulated, whilst those who took parental leave were considered ‘weird’₁.
A survey conducted by ‘Working Dads and Working Mums’, found 40% of fathers who asked for flexible work had their application denied, whilst 20% of fathers who had secured flexible work arrangements felt discriminated against₆.
The disparity of flexible work opportunities between fathers and mothers has been termed the ‘Fatherhood Forfeit’ ₇. Mothers applying for part-time positions are considered more favourably than fathers. Men are likely to be viewed more negatively, perhaps being thought of as not fulfilling their ‘breadwinner’ role, whilst mothers are praised for seeking a good work-life balance₇.
There remains an overwhelming expectation for mothers and fathers in UK society: 84% of fathers and 82% of mothers surveyed believed fathers should be the chief financial provider₁.
Attitudes about the role of women in the workplace have changed significantly over the past 30 years. Those same attitudes about fathers do not seem to have shifted at the same pace, and it’s hurting the whole family.
Supporting The Family
Allowing men through discussion and policy, to be involved in unpaid work at home is paramount to gender equality and personal wellbeing. It’s not enough for mothers to have equal opportunities in the workplace; fathers have to have equal opportunities to be at home too.
Fathers who are involved in their children’s lives say it is one of their most important sources of wellbeing and happiness₅. The statistics back it up, 56% of parents who equally share childcare report an above-average sense of wellbeing₃.
It’s time fathers make a breakthrough. Dads must start talking about their desire to be with their families, to normalise what so many fathers feel, but don’t say. Employers have to adopt more progressive policies and attitudes to champion gender equality in the workplace for fathers as well as mothers.
When mothers are considered equal in the workplace, and fathers are acknowledged equally within the home, we’ll have found a healthy balance.
₃ Modern Families Index 2020 Summary Report