Family-friendly must mean father-friendly if the lives of families in the UK are to be improved. That’s the message from the Chair of the Equal Opportunities Commission, Julie Mellor.
The EOC is urging employers to ensure men have equal access to family-friendly work arrangements so that both parents can make ‘real choices’ about how they manage childcare around work commitments.
Launching the EOC's new factsheet, ‘Facts about dads’, during National Family and Parenting Institute's National Parent's Week 2003, Julie Mellor said many employers still see flexible working or family-friendly working policies as something for women – particularly in male-dominated workplaces.
"It can be particularly difficult if you are a Dad to ask to change your hours so you can pick up the children from school or leave early to see a school play,” she said.
“Now that in many couples both parents work – many fathers are playing a bigger role in looking after their children yet find it difficult to break away from the long hours culture inherent in many organisations. Even limited flexibility can allow many fathers to play a more active role with children such as attending sports days, having time off for family emergencies or for hospital appointments.
Employers with stereotypical ideas about family roles, warning that organisations with 'out of touch' female-specific family policies could be acting unlawfully in terms of discrimination, she warned.
Among the examples of discrimination highlighted by the EOC is the case of a widowed father who was not able to change his hours to pick up his child from nursery even though mothers at the same company were allowed to have flexible working arrangements
Another example concerns a father who requested to change his shifts in order to help with childcare. Although he was allowed to do this as a short-term arrangement, he has since been overlooked several times for training opportunities. His employer has acknowledged that this is because he has asked to change his shifts and said they are now looking for someone more "committed."
The EOC says that UK fathers work some of the longest hours in Europe, averaging 46.9 hours per week, compared with 45.5 hours in Portugal, 41.5 hours in Germany, 40 hours in Ireland and 35.5 hours in France.
Fathers also have a lower expectation of family-friendly policies being open to them, despite the fact that they undertake a third of the childcare workload.
Jack Sullivan of campaigning group Fathers Direct said that men do not necessarily want to work less hours but want flexibility without loosing out at work.
"Men want to work and don’t mind being the main provider. What we need are more opportunities for women so that incomes do not suffer and more protection for men so that they do not get stuck in the downward 'mummy-track' that leads to less money," he said.