Workplace cultures risk alienating fathers: new study

New research suggests working fathers increasingly face similar dilemmas to working mothers as the government undertakes a new consultation to assess support for fathers in the workplace.

Male holding young child
The 2017 Modern Families Index from charity Working Families interviewed 2,750 employees from single and dual-parent households with at least one child aged 13 or under.The snapshot of working lives today today found 47 per cent of fathers would consider sidelining their careers and downshifting to a less stressful job to spend more time with their family. Working Families suggests this could potentially create a fatherhood penalty, as well as a motherhood penalty, in the UK’s workplaces.Further demonstrating the changing attitudes of working parents as female workforce participation reaches historic highs, 70 per cent of fathers would assess the impact on childcare of a new job or promotion.

Millennial fathers and their families

Likely due to their life stage as much as changing attitudes and awareness of gender equality and diversity at work, the Working Families’ report shows Millennial fathers have the strongest feelings about better balancing work and fatherhood.Almost half of Millennial fathers (46%) would be willing to take a pay cut to better balance work and family life compared to 38 per cent of fathers overall.Millennial parents together report feeling the time squeeze most when it comes to managing domestic and work responsibilities. Four in ten Millennials (41%) would reduce their salary compared to 31 per cent of older workers to be able to spend more time with their families.

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Hiding responsibilities from employers

The report also reveals the pressure men feel to conceal the extent of their involvement in childcare responsibilities.One in ten fathers feel working flexibly will impact negatively on their careers. This compares to just four per cent of mothers. A further 12 per cent of fathers believe flexible working means they will be regarded as less committed to their career, compared to six per cent of mothers.Almost half of men have also lied or bent the truth to employers about their family responsibilities. For women, this figure is 37 per cent.

Offsetting the parenthood penalties

Commenting on the report, Sarah Jackson, chief executive of Working Families, said: “To prevent a ‘fatherhood penalty’ emerging in the UK – and to help tackle the motherhood penalty – employers need to ensure that work is designed in a way that helps women and men find a good work-life fit. Making roles flexible by default and a healthy dose of realism when it comes to what can be done in the hours available are absolutely vital.“A game-changing first step would be government creating a new, properly paid, extended period of paternity leave – sending clear signal that government recognises the aspirations of modern fathers and is serious about tackling the motherhood penalty that blights the working lives of so many women.”

Government consultation on support for working fathers

Discussing the relative lack of support for working fathers in the workplace on BBC Radio 4's Today programme, Adrienne Burgess, CEO of the Fatherhood Institute, explained that shared parental leave does little to redress gender imbalances in the workplace."The new system was bigged up as shared parental leave and it's actually nothing of the sort. Fathers don't have any independent right to this leave. If a mother has some leave left over that she wants to share and both parents are employed and eligible, she can transfer some of it to the dad. It's actually only a minority of couples who qualify. Well under 50 per cent."Secondly, mothers' leave tends to be topped up with employers' pay. Employers are much less likely to do this for fathers' leave," she said, linking the issue to the UK government's Women and Equalities Committee. Its report on gender pay said there needs to be an equal playing field for men and women if the pay gap is to be eliminated. The committee is consulting until 1 March on steps the government could take to support working fathers better at work. Launching the committee's consultation, its chair, Maria Miller, said: "Many fathers want to take a more active role in caring for their children. Our report on the gender pay gap found that investing in policies that support men to share childcare equally, and allow women to continue working, will reap financial benefits as well as reducing the gender pay gap. 
"Yet it admits that its flagship Shared Parental Leave policy is likely to have a very low take-up rate. Following our work on the gender pay gap, the Women and Equalities Committee is now asking whether fathers are being failed in the workplace. Clearly, more needs to be done. We are keen to hear views from individuals as well as organisations about the changes which they would like to see."

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