Become father-friendly or loose the best people

Oct 21 2002 by Brian Amble Print This Article

Companies will fail to attract and retain the best male candidates unless they become more father-friendly, according to a new report from The Work Foundation.

"Dad's Army" sets out the case for why HR needs to shift its thinking to include both parents in flexible working and childcare policies.

The report claims that the corporate radar has not registered that the increase in working mothers over the last 30 years has also meant a change in fathers' domestic responsibilities, especially for the younger generation of dads.

Richard Reeves, author of the report and research associate at The Work Foundation says: "Jobs are still constructed around the idea of a breadwinning man with a wife at home. The pool of men who conform to this stereotype is shrinking fast. Young, top-flight career men are most likely to be married to young, top-flight career women - who are the women most likely to return to work with pre-school children. Clearly, the men companies most need are also the ones most needed at home."

Most companies point to their paternity leave as evidence of their father-friendliness. Yet only 65 per cent of firms offer paternity leave - compared to 95 per cent offering bereavement leave. It also reveals that paternity leave is often not taken up by men due to a fear of discrimination for wanting time off for childcare reasons.

"There is definitely a stigma attached to men wanting flexibility due to childcare reasons. They fear being seen as less committed to their job or less masculine," says Reeves. "HR departments then use this lack of take-up as evidence that men do not want more flexibility or longer paternity leave, creating a vicious cycle."

The report also highlights the link between a father-friendly approach by business and true gender equality in the workplace. Mothers will only enjoy equality at work once men are also taking breaks to care for children. Women who combine motherhood and a career often end up on a 'mommy track'. This is effectively the slow-lane, where women forfeit promotion prospects, training opportunities and earning potential in exchange for a less demanding role at work. If working fathers take on a greater share of the childcare and start demanding greater flexibility and a change in business culture employers will realise they can't slow track the majority of their staff and hope to survive.

"Rather than women conforming to a male model of work, men and women need to join forces to overthrow it," says John Knell, director of research at The Work Foundation. "The focus should no longer be on the dual-career couple but the dual-carer couple with both taking on the rearing of their children without either suffering a setback to their careers." Dad's Army recommends five steps for companies that want to think more creatively about the parents on their payroll.

  1. Daddy Diagnostic - find out what men want; it may not be paternity leave but leaving early on a Friday to pick up their kids for the weekend
  2. Paternity leave - is the necessary starting point but companies must think beyond it; children will need two parents throughout their lives
  3. Time Sovereignty - grant employers more control of their working hours and provide a range of options: flexi-time, compressed hours, term-time working etc.
  4. Culture shift - this has to come from the top but also requires staff changing their behaviour and assumptions
  5. Good work - improving the quality of the job and the working environment, as opposed to reducing hours, will have positive effects at home which will be reflected back at work