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UK business risks creating a ‘fatherhood penalty’

Many fathers are wanting to downshift to less stressful roles as they can't balance work and home life

Businesses in the UK risk creating a ‘fatherhood penalty’ by failing to adapt for working fathers who want to play a more active role in childcare, according to Working Families and Bright Horizons.

The 2017 Modern Families Index, which surveyed more than 2,700 parents across the UK, found that 47% of working fathers would like to downshift to a less stressful job, 38% would take a pay cut to improve their work/life balance, and 70% would assess childcare options before taking a new job or promotion.

Millennial fathers are more likely than older ones to consider compromising on their career, with 53% wanting to downshift and 48% willing to take a pay cut. Overall, fathers were more likely to say they would downshift or take a pay cut than mothers.

“To prevent a ‘fatherhood penalty’ emerging in the UK – and to help tackle the 'motherhood penalty' – employers need to ensure that work is designed in a way that helps women and men find a good work/life fit,” said Working Families chief executive Sarah Jackson.

“Making roles flexible by default, and a healthy dose of realism when it comes to what can be done in the hours available are absolutely vital,” she added.

The Women and Equalities Select Committee is launching an inquiry into fathers and work today. It is taking written submissions on whether fathers are being failed by workplace policies until 1 March.

Committee chair Maria Miller said: “Many fathers want to take a more active role in caring for their children, and our Committee’s inquiry into the gender pay gap last year found that sharing caring responsibilities equally between mothers and fathers is the key to reducing the gender pay gap.

“However, the government’s flagship policy of shared parental leave is likely to have little impact as it is predicted by the government to have a take-up rate of just 2% to 8%.”

Jackson called on the government to create “a new, properly paid, extended period of paternity leave”. “[This would send] a clear signal that the government recognises the aspirations of modern fathers and is serious about tackling the motherhood penalty that blights the working lives of so many women,” she added.

Working Families and Bright Horizon’s research also found that workplace culture continues to damage work/life balance for both genders, with 50% of respondents agreeing that their work/life balance is increasingly a source of stress. More than seven in 10 (72%) parents work at home in the evenings and at weekends, with 41% saying it happens “often or all the time”.

When asked why they put in extra hours, 67% of parents said it was the only way to deal with their workload, 54% said it was part of the organisation’s culture, and 47% said it was expected by their manager.

While 53% of respondents said they felt positively towards their employer about the work/life balance opportunities on offer, there remains an unwillingness to be open about work and home-life conflicts.

Four in 10 (41%) said they had lied or bent the truth about their home-life clashing with work, rising to 44% among fathers. Only half (51%) said they would feel confident talking to their employer about reducing their working hours or placing boundaries on work emails and calls, and 11% said their employer was unsympathetic towards their childcare responsibilities.

Denise Priest, director of employer and strategic partnerships at Bright Horizons, said: “It’s clear that the reconciliation of work and family life is now a priority for both mothers and fathers. It is impossible to overstate the positive impact of an understanding and supportive employer – one that adapts to its employees’ needs so that they can progress in their careers.”