Without the option to work flexibly, I would not be writing this blog. I would have had to give up on a vocation after years of learning and grafting, in order to be a mum. I always wanted to have children, so if we were lucky enough to have them, I was prepared to choose family over my career. Although there have been compromises, I am one of the fortunate ones to have found a progressive, forward-thinking, supportive organisation who recognises its employees are both passionate about their work and passionate about their children (and neither detracts from the other).
National Work Life Week is an opportunity for both employers and employees to focus on wellbeing at work and work/life balance, organised by Working Families. Not only do more family-friendly working practices benefit dads; Flexible and part-time working by men encourages better gender equality in the workplace and better enables both mums and dads to embrace both parenthood and a career.
A great dad can make all the difference to a child's wellbeing, confidence and educational attainment. Research overwhelmingly shows that children, families and society as a whole benefits from the positive involvement of fathers. It also demonstrates that dad-friendly employers also benefit, because dads who are supported at work are more engaged and productive.
This year, Fathers Network Scotland's research showed that one barrier to dads’ engagement with their children’s education is their working hours. Dads' involvement in their children's education can make all the difference to children’s well-being, confidence and educational attainment. But we clearly found that mums being mostly in charge of care for the family impacts on dads’ involvement at home, at school and in the community.
Research conducted by the University of Edinburgh shows that family-friendly policies and flexible working arrangements are more likely to be taken up by dads who have a supportive and informed line-manager, and who work alongside other fathers, including more senior colleagues who serve as role models by using such arrangements themselves. One such dads commented, “The flexibility afforded here helps me feel that I’m not a father that doesn’t see his children...I am a 7-day-a-week dad, not just a 2-day-a-week dad.”
When men and women become parents, both are entitled to share up to 50 weeks of leave and up to 37 weeks of pay between them and can choose to be off work together or to stagger the leave and pay. But dads in Scotland are making limited use of their workplace entitlements, often because they feel too worried or embarrassed to use their paternity rights fully. Workplace culture, line manager relationships, the ‘modelling’ behaviour of peers and gendered leave practices all impact on how fathers feel about using work-family balance policies, and whether they are likely to use them.
Fathers Network Scotland believes that mums and dads should each have their own individual right to parental leave, on a "use it or lose it" basis. That means that neither parent has to forfeit his or her leave for the other, and parents who don't take the paid leave lose the benefit. We need to normalise dads taking parental leave in workplace and societal culture, so that it isn't seen as a negative, or professionally detrimental, thing to do. Equal paid parental leave rights should reduce the number of women who are penalised by their employers for taking maternity leave, or asking to work part time to care for their children.
This should, of course, extend to self-employed parents too.
My self-employed husband received no parental leave at all. I vividly remember being rushed back into hospital a week after giving birth, and my husband sitting at the end of my bed, frantically tapping away at his laptop trying to meet deadlines. What kind of start is that for a new family? A very stressful one, I can tell you.
When Aviva launched its group-wide policy to give men and women equal parental leave last year, I spoke to Matthew Kennedy from Glasgow who had taken Aviva up on its offer. I told him about our work at Fathers Network Scotland and our campaign to create a Scotland where mums and dads each have their own individual right to equal parental leave.
"I think the benefits would be equality," he told me. "Equal parentage. I've talked to people you haven't had that advantage when they became parents. If you're lying in bed in the middle of the night and the baby starts screaming, who gets up? Well if dad's working in the morning and mum isn't, there's a pressure there that she's got to deal with it. If dad comes home at night and is a bit tired from working, is he going to deal with a screaming baby? If you're off work for six months, there are absolutely no excuses. You've got to get your hands dirty if you're a dad and it will be to your advantage. Equality means you'll be equal parents, which is what it should be."
Let's recognise how important dads are to their families and in their children's lives, challenge the gender stereotyping around parenting, promote gender equity at home and in the workplace, and get this work life balance thing, well, a bit more balanced.