I have recently attended a Webinar from a well respected lecturer in Plymouth who has focused on fathers in the workplace. It got me thinking about social norms and how they are discussed and translated into actions in the workplace.
In this particular research the focus was the ability for fathers to apply for part time work. There won’t be many organisations that don’t have a policy around flexible working requests, or a shared parental leave policy or an understanding of the legislation. From a policy perspective it is all set up for anyone, a parent or otherwise, to make a flexible working request. We are used to mothers making the request, and my experience is that most employers will work hard to accommodate a flexible working request from a mother. But this research, from Dr Jasmine Kelland shows that it is not the same for fathers. The anecdotal evidence from other attendees supported the research.
What really saddened me wasn’t just the attitudes in the workplace, the watercooler chat, the “banter” etc., but the social responses to fathers attending school to do the pick up, attending playgroups and pre-school activities. There was plenty of evidence of the isolation felt by those fathers who wanted to actively participate in the upbringing of pre-teenage children and were being socially isolated for doing so. This is about the attitude of mothers as much as workplace colleagues. One of the quotes given to us was about perceived laziness if men choose to reduce their hours to care for their children.
What particularly struck me was the fact that we can create an environment for anything through policy formulation, but if we don’t support that through education, environment, open discussion, awareness of bias (conscious or unconscious) then the policy is worthless. In the research mentioned above, it is actually damaging to individuals where there is an adverse impact on their wellbeing.
I urge you to talk to colleagues about this, and find out what people really think. If there were two flexible working requests in front of you, one from a mother and one from a father, would you view them the same? Would you believe one was harming their career more than another? If you are a parent, how do you view fathers who work less to care for their children, particularly if the mother of the children works more? We can all challenge our own views, and maybe that is the healthy thing to do. We should encourage debate, & really interrogate what we think? Sometimes we believe we hold a more open-minded view, but our actions demonstrate something else.
Change only happens when we face the problem head on, talk about it and find real, sustainable solutions. So often that is about changing mind sets not just documents. This happens to focus on working parents, but how many other policies do we have in place that don’t work? It’s worth a thought.