For many years, employers have understood that to get the best out of their female staff, they need to find ways of helping them combine work and motherhood. More recently, a few enlightened employers have started to think about how they can support working dads too.
But there is still a long way to go. Many employers do not even top up paternity leave beyond the statutory £139.58 a week, for example, and many have failed to match their shared parental leave offer to their enhanced maternity provisions.
If employers want to stand out from the crowd as being father-friendly, here are three ideas for changes they could make.
First, rethink parenting leave. The two weeks’ leave most men get is paltry compared to that of their partners and clarifies to everyone that dads are for breadwinning, and mums for care-giving. To even things out, employers could offer mums six months’ non-transferable, well-paid leave, and the same for dads. Or introduce a full- or well-paid, use-it-or-lose-it ‘daddy month’, to be taken later in the child’s first year. At the very least, pay paternity leave at full salary, and enhance shared parental leave to match maternity leave. Employers should then work hard to show the men in their workforce that these offers are available and supported.
Second, make flexible working the new normal. It is easy for flexible working to remain a theoretical concept hidden away in an HR manual, available only to the minority of employees (usually women) who are prepared to go against the grain of workplace culture and suffer the consequences (like lower pay and status, and fewer promotions). Make life easier for everyone, including working dads, by offering all jobs on the basis that they can be worked flexibly unless there is an immediate and continuing business reason not to.
Third, close the gender pay gap. If employers are paying men more than women, why? And what does that say about the commitment they are expecting of each? Until men and women can be confident of finding jobs that pay the same rate, it will remain too easy for couples to slip into the ‘traditional’ model where the dad brings home more of the bacon (and feels ‘tied’ to his desk, at the expense of hands-on involvement with his children) and the mum does the lion’s share of the childcare (having accepted that her career must fall off a cliff).
Jeremy Davies is head of communications at the Fatherhood Institute