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Why now is the time to support working dads

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A year of homeworking and school closures has transformed fatherhood. Perceived barriers to remote and flexible working have been obliterated.

University of Birmingham research shows that more working dads are now actively involved with day-to-day childcare, instead of just playing with them at the weekend or occasionally reading a bedtime story.

What’s more, dads have enjoyed the opportunities this has created to form deeper bonds with their children and now want help to sustain a better work-family balance.

According to a lockdown survey, one in four dads (25%) now want to work more flexibly and nearly one in five (19%) want to continue remote working. Yet there are still huge challenges ahead. So here are three ways HR can help working dads.

 

Don’t make assumptions

Don’t assume that those who were always last to leave the office will want to return to working like this post-pandemic. The past year has caused most people to re-evaluate what matters most to them and family arrangements may have changed.

Partners may have changed jobs, relationships may have broken down and childcare that used to be provided by a grandparent may no longer be an option.

In the past, flexible working has been very rigid and typically involved a woman coming back from maternity leave on reduced hours, accompanied with a decrease in pay and status. But with both genders playing a more active role in the upbringing of children, this doesn’t have to be the case.

Flexible working can mean taking six weeks off over the summer or working school hours twice a week. Talk to working dads about what sort of flexibility they want and need to take the pressure off.

 

Identify role models

Many working dads have been working remotely for over a year now, yet economic uncertainty means that few formal plans or contractual changes for long-term flexibility have been made.

The ‘right’ of dads to ongoing flexibility – such as leaving early two nights a week to do the school run or working from home two days a week – hasn’t been formally established. Many may therefore feel awkward about disclosing childcare commitments. Working dads need to feel ok being open about their commitments – or even simply expressing a preference.

Find men who are already successfully working flexibly to accommodate childcare. Encourage them to give a talk or write an article about how they’ve made this work for them.

If you don’t yet have any dad role models, encourage some dads who want to do this to be trailblazers, then give them access to a mentor, such as a career coach or working mum, who can help them to overcome any hurdles.

 

Change the culture

The pandemic has brought about a huge cultural shift, making it socially acceptable for men to be seen to be doing more to juggle work and children. However, for this to continue, employers need to make it socially acceptable for men to be seen as involved parents within your particular organisation.

A powerful way to do this is to bring a group of dads together to form an internal network. Many dads are interested in exploring and formalising more flexible arrangements when they’re not the only man asking. A workshop could also be offered to equip them with the tools and confidence to discuss flexible working in practice with their manager.

Helping working dads to become more involved parents will not only enable them to achieve the work-family balance they now want, but it will also free up more women to further their careers – creating a turning point for gender equality.

 

Helen Letchfield is co-founder of Parent & Professional