2020 isn’t just a new year, it’s a new horizon, the start of a new decade, and for many new working fathers the start of a new dawn when it comes to the world of work. For much of the last decade we have seen tremendous progress in many parts of modern day organization – more recognition of diversity as a true competitive advantage, the rise of new methodologies looking at talent and leadership, and the birth of movements looking at gender equality and more latterly the intersectionality between these areas.
But it was where 2019 left us in particular that I believe is now a new juncture for modern day fathers at work.
Reviewing 2019 progress
Diageo, O2, Deloitte, Standard Life Aberdeen, and many more were amongst the record numbers of large organisations establishing better parental leave packages for dads last year. This was incredible progress that more accurately reflected the new dynamics of modern day fathers having more equalized parenting roles.
I had the honour of speaking at a variety of events last year such as Bloomfest, Masculinity in the Workplace, and the Managing to be dad conference amongst others, and the theme across them all was how modern teams need to go beyond one dimensional thinking when it comes to modern day fathers. Dads are no longer the parents just buying the car seats for children, they are increasingly involved in every day to day aspect of parenting.
There were also seeds of encouragement in the Government’s election manifesto that started to recognize that change too, with pledges to:
- Encourage flexible working and consulting on making it an employer’s default position.
- Legislating to enable parents to take extended leave for neonatal care.Considering how to make it easier for fathers to take paternity leave.
- Funding more high-quality childcare before and after school and during the holidays to support working families.
- Extending the leave entitlement for unpaid carers, who the Conservative party recognises are mostly women.
What comes of those pledges still remains to be seen of course, but there is now an urgent need to build on last year’s momentum so that we can get closer to true progress for business and family as a whole – particularly in an economic climate where we will need to look at maximizing each and everyone’s potential at work more than ever in a post Brexit world.
My 2020 hopes
Here are my top five areas of progress for 2020 that I hope will enable true change for modern day dads at work over the next decade:
1. The Gender Balance discussion needs to include dads as well as mums.
The gender balance debate for parents has been predominantly focused on mums in the workplace. But with a new generation of fathers coming through, we need business to enable true gender balance for dads too and help to create the ultimate goal – thriving modern day family – in all its different shapes and sizes.
As a start, businesses need to have the confidence to approach this subject in a clear, mature way, because getting flexible working right is going to drive significant competitive advantage over the short, medium and long term.
2. Being more open with parental leave packages
The requirement in law to publish gender pay differentials has been a powerful tool to drive change and awareness of a workplace system that doesn’t serve the cause of retaining and promoting the best female talent.
In October 2018 the government announced that it planned to consult on a bill that would require large employers to publish their parental leave package.
Transparency in this area would represent the raising of the bar for everyone. I hope 2020 is the year where it becomes a reality. HR directors have a vital role to play in raising the transparency and openness of people progress in their organisations.
3. “Balance” and flexibility isn’t just for working mums
Flexible working and work life balance are often used as short-hand for “perks” for mums. This is a failure on two levels:
>For the dads who want to design their working time more flexibly and,
>For the mums who need certainty of flexible working and find that they are trapped by the 26 week statutory employment requirement.
A two tier system isn’t good for anyone. Helping Dads to communicate their needs and desires about work life balance is vital to move the conversation on about flexible and part time working away from just being a female ‘issue’ to becoming a people issue.
4. Workplace support is extended for all new parents
Becoming a parent is a massive life change – as much for men as it is for women. Men face the challenge of limited leave and the financial and cultural pressures of being the sole breadwinner on reduced income. It’s tough, and 25% of men show signs of post natal depression while 80% feel the pressure of being “the rock”.
Firms that offer maternity return to work coaching or mentoring need to be recognising the benefits of supporting their men returning to work too.
It’s for that exact reason we started our own Dad Mentoring service last year which has been a huge hit for those who have been through it, and we’re expecting even more of a need in that area this year.
5. Flexible working will be recognized as the key enabler of a productive workforce
Flexible working for dads matters more than ever, but our own research showed that the percentage of dads being granted different forms of flexible working requested is astoundingly poor. Unless we can drive real change in this area, 2020 isn’t going to look much different to 1920 in how we view the role of fathers – both at work and at home.
The current legislation says that after 26 weeks of employment, you are able make a “statutory application” for flexible working. Everyone has a legal right to request, not just parents.
But too many organisations have a perception of flexible working as a way of working less. If anything, the opposite is true. The UK has one of the longest work hours cultures, but one of the least productive too.
We need to change the way we work and create new ways of working around innovation – and nowhere is this truer than with parents – mums and dads.
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