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Why can’t dads work flexibly too?

Over the last ten years, here at Ten2two, we’ve seen the percentage of men coming to our flexible recruitment agency, looking for flexibility, increase year on year. So why aren’t there more flexible jobs for dads? 

As any HR specialist will tell you, the demand for greater work-life balance means that nine out of ten employees now want flexible working. However, if you’re a parent, it becomes more important. Companies are saying they support this, but the reality in practice doesn’t always match up to the policy.

So why don’t more dads feel able to ask for flexible working?

Flexible working and the promotion gap

A key indicator of why Shared Parental Leave hasn’t been as widely adopted as hoped in the UK, is the fact that promotion possibilities are thought to diminish if any absence from the workplace was taken.

Unfortunately, when women go off and have a baby, couples have to have the financial conversation of who will take time out from their career to focus on raising their child, or if external childcare is affordable, what needs to happen so both can continue as before. Even with outside help, someone needs to be readily available to make the nursery pick ups and be available at a moment’s notice. There is still the perception that the person who does this, will have to take a career ‘hit’. And this is usually – although not exclusively – the mother. Flexible jobs for dads simply haven’t made it into everyday vernacular yet.

Deborah O’Sullivan, MD at Ten2Two, says, “Women know that once you work flexibly, there’s often a penalty to pay in terms of promotion prospects. And now men are grappling with this too. It is still perceived as outside the norm for a man to ask for time off to look after his children. Everyone wants flex, so what can be done about it?”

Flexible working is not a weakness

Dads are being penalised for the old-fashioned view that flexible working is a woman’s issue, and some businesses simply aren’t keeping up with the demands of the modern workplace.

But the problem isn’t going to go away – in fact a recent report suggested it is beginning to affect working dads’ mental health. With many dads doing more of the day-to-day parenting, there is even a guilt factor coming into play, whereby they just don’t feel like they’re able to offer equality when it comes to juggling child caring responsibilities. This just feels all wrong to us in the twenty-first century.

Flexible working for dads and mums

Look around, who are the people within your organisation who are actively modelling flexible working? Are they women? Or are they men and women?

Here at flexible recruiter Ten2Two, we want everyone talking about flexible working, but we also want to see people – and particularly, men, role modelling it successfully.

Deborah adds, “If you’re an employer, the key is to be flexible and proud! Because the more employers who speak up and promote flexible working, the more acceptable and ‘normal’ it becomes. If there are people in your company doing it well, use them as a case study to promote it. Having policies in place are all very well, but, if you still have pockets of managers who reward hours rather than output, flexible working for dads and mums will continue to remain policy rather than reality.”

Not just a pretty policy for dads and mums

The reality is, recruiting managers are often still not putting flexibility on their job specifications when seeking new staff. This puts people off from asking for it at interview. But if you add it to your job adverts at the outset, you can hope to attract some exceptional talent outside the normal talent pool. It baffles us that more organisations don’t do this. It’s not a good signal that a company fully embraces flexible working if they don’t consider it at recruitment stage.

There seems to be a perception that flexible working is not seen as good enough. And you could even go so far to say that men are bearing the brunt of this.

Working dads still feel scared to ask for flexibility as it challenges the stereotypical norms. Can a main breadwinner work flexibly, successfully? We know they can. But we also know that challenging stereotypes isn’t always easy.

Iris Bohnet, a Harvard University Professor in Behavioural Economics says in her book, What Works: Gender Equality by Design’, “People who violate norms tend to pay a social price of some kind. If men ask for parental leave, they no longer fit our mental model of the ‘ideal man’. People generally do not find norm violators appealing.” The same goes for women engineers, women leaders, etc. As much as we go looking for diversity, the reality is that people aren’t always ready to embrace it and unconscious bias comes into play, whether we like it or not.

This is an interesting take on gender equality and feeds into the current noise that we’re hearing about men feeling held back when it comes to flexible working. They simply don’t feel able to ask for it, never mind actually getting it and proving they can do the job on a flexible basis. Flexible jobs for dads? It just isn’t a ‘thing’, is it? We believe it should be.

Gender bias and flexible working

Just think about it. How many dads still feel self-conscious at the school gate? It is changing, but ask them if they really feel as socially accepted as the mums who are also there, and you may get a mixed response. All we can hope is that when more people actively do the subversive, the more normal it becomes.

Likewise, the more people ask for flexible working at the outset, the more likely it is that we will see employers offering it upfront, rather than it being the unspoken elephant in the room. This is proven by the amount of times we are asked when is best to ask for flexible working at interview. Our hope is that this question will quickly become irrelevant with more and more open minded companies adopting flexible working.

Parents shouldn’t feel penalised so they have to stay in unfulfilling roles just because they can’t get flexibility anywhere else. Or if they do take extended parental leave, they should feel welcomed back by the world of work. They’ve had babies, not a lobotomy, so why should they feel out of touch or unwelcome by employers?

Deborah adds, “Promote your flexible workers and you’ll invite a positive workplace culture that says parenting is good, bringing the next generation is good. After all, society depends on parents doing this and doing it well. If a company offers flexible jobs for dads and mums with some level of promotion and career development, they will attract good people who are focused on doing their role well because they value it greatly.”

The quest for flexible working for dads and mums, sadly marches on. If you’d like us to find you a new flexible or part-time job, please register with Ten2Two today – dads and mums and anyone seeking a better work-life balance are welcome. We look forward to hearing from you all, equally.

6 min read