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19 Nov 2021
by Jennifer Liston-Smith

Five actions for employers to create a more inclusive and engaging culture for working fathers

Recent times have catapulted progress towards more shared parenting and household chores. While mothers’ time spent on childcare rose from almost 7 to 10.3 hours per day during the spring 2020 lockdown, fathers almost doubled how much they spent looking after children, from just over four to eight hours per day.




Just over a quarter of fathers (26%) stated that they now do more childcare than they did the previous year; 80% of these men would like to continue to do so. Fathers are actively weighing up parenting responsibilities in their career plans, with 69% saying they would need to carefully consider their childcare options before accepting or applying for a promotion or new job.

Adult care is an even bigger concern during a career transition for those involved. Three-quarters indicated a caring responsibility would need to consider their eldercare options before accepting or applying for a promotion or new job.

Cultural barriers

Against this context, it is concerning that UK take-up of paternity leave has dropped to a 10-year low and take-up of shared parental leave fell during the pandemic for the first time since coming into effect in 2015.

This may be pandemic-related, however, if related to cultural barriers, it is worrying in a world where shared parenting is increasingly the expectation across all genders and types of couples, as we see also repeatedly in our parent transition coaching across sectors.

We have found a rise in employers enhancing paternity leave (and other parental leave) up from 44% in 2017 to 67% in 2021. Further, 21% of employers now offer more than 2 weeks’ full pay for paternity/partner leave, while only 9% offered more than this in 2019.

That said, two weeks is still very little and shared parental leave enhancement is still modest, up from 25% of employers enhancing in 2017 to 48% today. When most employers enhance only 2 weeks’ leave for fathers/partners, or provide statutory pay only for shared parental leave, it entrenches an outdated model of one ‘primary’ carer and one ‘secondary’ carer.

This model, underpinned by current legislation, is out of step with the way many working fathers expect to parent. But something has shifted in the last 20 months, and employers have the opportunity to build on that, rather than losing disengaged working fathers to more family-friendly competitors.

1. Recognise what fatherhood looks like today

A very good starting point is the Dad book produced by Elliott Rae and Music Football Fatherhood. Other really helpful sets of insights come from Han-Son Lee’s book You’re Going to Be A Dad! The New Dad’s Guide to Pregnancy and the First Year of Fatherhood, and the earlier book by James Millar and David Freed: Dads Don’t Babysit.

2. Be flexible

Three-quarters (76%) of those fathers who were full-time at home during lockdown said they’d like more flexible working, and nearly two-thirds (63%) would like more home-working in future. Exploring flexible and remote working can help working fathers caught up in the trap of earning and providing with accompanying long hours.

Read and respond to the current government consultation, Making Flexible Working the Default, and consider how you will adapt: not only to a ‘right to request’, but how you can recruit flexibly and ensure people of all genders, family structures or without family, are included in conversations about new ways of working.

3. Review your parental leave policies, and the programmes you put around them

Consider your own policies and how gender-inclusive and father-empowering they are. Many employers are using other key ways of engaging and retaining talented people, including: facilitating a phased return; establishing a parents’ network; online/app-based coaching/advice; wellbeing services (such as antenatal classes, gym, yoga); providing parental leave coaching; line manager training.

4. Provide family-friendly enablers

More than three quarters of employees report that having access to back-up childcare, workplace or near-site nurseries, parent transition coaching and app-based advice, and other family support makes a positive contribution to wellbeing and engagement. Two-thirds note an upward impact on productivity and commitment to their employer.

The highest rated forms of support from employers include: a culture of flexible working; back-up care services for loved ones of any age; line managers with the knowledge and confidence to understand and support work life balance.

5. Enter for family-friendly awards

Taking part in awards such as the WM People Top Employer Awards, Working Families Benchmark and HR Datahub will focus your mind on your successes to-date and – if you don’t win – then studying the winners will provide ideas on the distance you still have to travel.

Make sure your employees are part of the journey; in our connected world the employer brand does need to match the employee voice very closely. When you do win, make sure your teams are part of the celebrations, too.

Making a difference for International Men’s Day

The more these 5 actions become the norm, the more all working parents will flourish (and non-parents, too, as the culture grows to pay attention to other aspects of work-life blend).

International Men’s Day is on 19 November. What can we each do, personally, to promote positive conversations about men, manhood and masculinity?

One step is to open our eyes to the way that gender roles are changing and to talk about that as the norm; to recognise progress rather than dwelling on how far we yet have to go. Let’s change our mental images.

The author is Jennifer Liston Smith, head of thought leadership at Bright Horizons Work+Family Solutions.

This article is provided by Bright Horizons Work+Family Solutions.

In partnership with Bright Horizons Work+Family Solutions

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