The world in which we work has changed a lot in the last fifty years since our fathers were first embarking on being working parents. 2 out of 3 couples now work full time. Of those couples, 50% of women now earn the same if not more than their partners. The responsibility of childcare no longer falls solely on mothers as more couples want to equally share time with their children. The Government has recognised that standard maternity leave is increasingly out of sync with the demands and wishes of modern couples. So from April onwards Shared Parental Leave will allow fathers more time with their children whilst allowing women to return to the workplace and resume their careers. But how are potential fathers responding to this?
Research from a recent PfP Coaching survey has shown that whilst more fathers want to work flexibly, indeed 57% of working dads said they would consider taking Shared Parental Leave (SPL), the vast majority are concerned that their managers will not support them. Alternative research from Working Families has shown that whilst the will might be there, pure financial concerns would restrict the vast number of fathers from accessing SPL.
The PfP Coaching survey from Parenting for Professionals (http://parentingforprofessionals.co.uk/) asked 47 working dads how they felt about taking time off from work to share leave with their partners.
A surprising 77% of respondents have already made changes to their working lives since becoming fathers, in order to spend more time with their children. One third of this group have made formal changes to their working arrangements. Examples of flexibility ranged from giving up work altogether in order to become a stay-at-home dad to taking Additional Paternity Leave and working 4.5 day weeks and 9-day fortnights.
It was positive to hear many examples of informal flexibility too – leaving early or doing the school run were the most common: ‘I hope more dads ask their employers about flexibility – let’s see more of them at the school gates!’
57% of respondents said they would consider taking SPL, as more dads push for more time with their families: ‘Childhood is a once in a lifetime experience for a dad and should not be missed if at all possible.’
However 37% of dads said they wouldn’t consider sharing leave with their partners whilst 40% of these respondents stated financial reasons as to why they weren’t considering SPL. Only 4% specifically highlighted the negative impact it could have on their career. However, this could be because many dads have not yet experienced the longer-term consequence of the working/parenting split. One respondent pointed out that ‘it will impact on your ability to work/perform, and it’s a matter of time before the glass ceiling appears, as for working mums.’
Managerial support for working dads certainly appears to be lacking, with 38% of respondents reporting that they did not feel their managers supported them as they became fathers in the workplace. This result is very much in line with the similar lack of managerial support felt by working mums. Comments reflected the fact it’s still culturally more acceptable for women to work flexibly: ‘all the leave options are targeted at women.’ If more managers understood that becoming a good parent means increasing the level of workplace flexibility, fathers would be happier and more productive at work.
Financial concerns were also high with half of all couples surveyed by Working Families stating that financial pay would be a barrier to taking SPL unless it was matched to existing contractual offered maternity pay in companies. It would be very difficult for families on low incomes to take SPL.
It is clear that whilst there is an increasing appetite for fathers wanting to combine working and parenting and many fathers have already taken steps to spend more time with their children, managerial support is still very much lacking, as are more father-friendly policies and entitlements including financial equality with existing maternity pay provisions.