Time to fix the fathers?
Published: 20 Mar 2018
Welcome to the Mummy Track, guys. Our Modern Families Index 2018 shows very little difference between men and women – fathers are making the same career compromises as mothers do, which we have been agonising over for decades. Men and women turn down promotions, say no to a new job – steer their career into the sidings and idle the engine for a few years.
We have been trying to fix the women. Should we try to fix fathers too? Perhaps now it’s time to agree that we have to fix work itself.
A good start is today’s report into fathers at work from the government’s Women and Equalities Select Committee. It presents a series of recommendations which could enable a gear-change. Paternity leave a day one right, just like maternity (right now, a father has to have been employed for 41 weeks with the same employer to earn the right to merely two weeks off when his child is born). Those sorry two weeks extended to 14 in total, six to be paid at 90% of wages (capped for higher earners). All jobs to be advertised flexibly where there is no business reason not to do so.
Puzzlingly, they suggest that SPL should be replaced by the new leave, albeit on the apparently not unreasonable grounds that it is not widely taken up and where it is, it’s by higher paid men whose employers enhance their pay. Well, yes… but why scrap something which enables couples to create their own leave equality? We already see couples choosing 26 weeks each, or for him to stay off longer than her. The new paternity leave bakes in gender inequality – 52 weeks for her, 14 for him. Keep SPL alongside it and you keep family flexibility – which we know is important to this generation of parents.
Flexible job advertising is a clever culture change lever. Fathers who want to work flexibly for childcare reasons – whatever the age of their child – often run up against old-school assumptions about who should work and who should care, and can face real discrimination. By requiring a hiring manager to think about each role before they advertise, you may begin to move the mindset, from this-is-how-we-always-do-it to “why not?”. Over time, eyes should open to new possibilities.
Culture change takes a long time. We look at Scandinavia and wonder why SPL has not delivered similar levels of father participation. We should give ourselves a bit of a break – we are doing the right things. The Women and Equalities Committee identifies what we need more of – pay, legal rights, flexible working. Their report gets a (very slightly qualified) three cheers from me.
More from Working Families on Shared Parental Leave