As an influential Commons committee recommends wide-ranging changes to working culture for dads, FNS director SAMANTHA PRINGLE shares the personal cost of leaving things as they are.
RECENTLY I was asked to give a talk about what dads can do to create a more equal and fair society, as part of an International Women’s Day event.
This issue is at the heart of why Fathers Network Scotland exists, why I personally joined the board five years ago and subsequently stepped up to lead the organisation. I want a society where mums and dads share house work and the care of their children – the utopia of a happy home!
The irony of this story is that one hour before my talk was due to begin, I was on the phone arguing with my husband about who would leave work and pick up our daughter, whose school had called to say she was sick. My husband works for a large financial organization. Can you guess who won the argument? And who then pulled out of her talk, even on International Women’s Day?
INEQUALITY BUILT IN
Let me be clear. Like many families we surveyed last year, my husband and I share the housework & childcare. And when we first started dating some 17 years ago we had similar salaries.
But like many women, I moved from the private sector to the Third Sector when we had a family so that I could work less than full time. And that move came with a cost. While I am the one with the flexible employer, my partner is now the main breadwinner. So although we split the house work, he brings home 80% of the family income and I do most of the unpaid labour.
That’s why, when push comes to shove and the school makes its emergency call, 9 times out of 10 it’s me who will step up to the childcare and step down from my work. Believe me, this creates ‘tension’ in our house! Though I enjoy the benefits of working flexibly, I sometimes resent being the one who responds to the domestic crisis, with the consequence of late night working to catch up.
I can empathize (when I’m not tired!) with the fact my partner works long hours and is not permitted to work from home. But I also believe this burden holds back my career and the potential benefit our children could have of having him at home more. I know my whole family benefits when I’m not always the one to put the children to bed or attend their school show. When the Mount Etna laundry pile doesn’t overflow because mum is working late.
A WORKING REVOLUTION
The problem is that for many families the opportunity to make more balanced choices are still not on the kitchen table, particularly for dads. Research from Working Families shows that over half of young fathers want to downshift at work to accommodate family life. But they don’t have the same rights to leave and don’t believe they can use family friendly policies for fear of losing their job or their manager’s support.
That’s why changes in legislation proposed today by the Women and Equalities Committee - following input by Fathers Network Scotland among many others - are absolutely crucial to the happiness of our families and workplaces.
The committee recommends:
- That all new jobs to be advertised as flexible
- Better workplace rights for fathers who are agency or casual workers
- Fathers in their child’s first year get up to 12 weeks of well-paid leave, independent of mothers’ entitlement, on a use-it-or-lose it basis.
We passionately back these changes at Fathers Network Scotland – and I know from personal experience what a radical difference this change of working culture in all organisations would make to my own family.
So let’s push NOW for this long-overdue revolution - for our children, our relationships and to help close the gender care gap. Dads need well-paid, independent, use-it-or-lose-it parental leave!
Let’s give employers, services and families the opportunity to #DadUp!
Read the full recommendations of the Women and Equalities Committee in the Fathers in the Workplace Report.
Would you like to contribute to a major new online survey of men’s work-life balance by Business in the Community, and help push forward change in our working culture? Click here to start survey.