Why are fathers left out of the work-life balance debate?
Since taking up the role of Labour's shadow childcare minister, I've been struck by how many men (usually dads) are as animated and exercised about the challenges of family and work-life balance as women. This is particularly true of men of my generation who are at the beginning of their journey of trying to be successful as dads and at work.
That dads today take such a keen interest in such issues is a very good thing. But unfortunately the experience of too many fathers is a frustrating one filled with barriers. I hear of problems with paternity leave, difficulties working flexible hours and prejudice from workmates and bosses when trying to become more involved as dads.
That only 17 per cent of men have even asked for flexible working, according to the Government’s latest figures should act as a stimulus for all of us to look at what “family friendly” really means for the workplace and about the barriers that parents face.
Offering better childcare and family-friendly policies won’t just help working mothers. Modern dads want a modern workplace, which is understanding and responsive to their needs.
A new report from Working Families, called “Time, Health, Family” lays bare some of the obstacles that families and particularly fathers face in having choices about balancing work and family life.
Dads need a modern workplace and family-friendly policies and practices so they can get on at work as well as having time to be with their kids. While women still face a glass ceiling to get back and get on in work because of sky-high childcare costs, many dads face cultural barriers to being able to work flexibly, including long hours and inflexible organisational cultures and expectations from society that men should be the main breadwinner.
We know having more dads involved in childcare and home life is good for children, but this should benefit employers too, making their employees happier and less resentful. Policy and practice need to change to give more opportunities to fathers as well as mothers.
We all want better working environments for mums and dads. That’s why I’m working with colleagues Chuka Umunna and Ian Murray to host a family friendly summit in late February.
Working together in partnership with employers and employees, we can create family-friendly
working environments that make a difference for dads as well as mums and business.