We are all guilty, well, I certainly am anyway, of always thinking of mums when discussing flexible and agile working. I’ve written enough blogs and articles that have been female centric and so to all of you working dads out there, seeking a better work-life balance, I apologise, and with more men than ever now becoming Available Experts at Availexe, this blog is long overdue.
When interviewed in April 2014, the chief executive of the charity Working Families was quoted as saying “The male employee, focused full-time on his work, is becoming a museum-piece,” this was just after legislation came in extending the right to shared parental leave but how true is this quote really? Yes, the tide is turning and there is absolutely no doubt that more dads than ever are changing the way they work in order to spend more time with their families but you only have to look around at the representation of dads in baby/ toddler groups or around the office of the majority of businesses in the country to know that we are still a long way off before the full time male employee can take his place beside the dinosaurs at the Natural History museum.
Now Sweden, really is another story. Shared parental leave was first introduced in 1974 and every Father has at least a month of childcare when their baby is born. Dads playing a key part in the care of their child have even got their own label in the Scandinavian Haven- “latte pappas” and how great it is that this country that has one of the highest standards of living in the world grasped a generation ago that the only way to keep mothers in the workforce was to create an environment where it was possible and acceptable for dads to be caregivers too.
As mentioned earlier, we at Availexe are hearing from more and more dads seeking a more flexible way of working and we know that this upward trend will just continue but looking at my own personal situation, I don’t know of a single dad who has made changes to his work since the birth of his child, so I took to social media to find out what other people’s experiences with working dads were. So many dads were keen to talk about what they have decided to do. Whilst the majority of dads who got in touch with me work the equivalent of 4 days over various patterns, there were a small handful who had given up work all together to be the main carer for their children, just because their wives or partners earn more. The overwhelming theme for all of those dads working flexibly was that they were the first people in their organisations to seek alternative work arrangements and all of them, with the exception of one, found the whole experience pretty difficult and hard work to organise. One, who wouldn’t name his company but who he says champion themselves to be leaders in flexible working, was extremely reluctant to approach them and ask for more flexibility. Reading all of the responses from mums and dads alike really was a heartening experience. With so many keen to share what they had gone through, it was clear that whilst on the one hand they were all spurred on to speak out because of the difficulties most had encountered, I couldn’t help but feel that they all had a connection with each other as they were all doing what is still deemed to be out of the ordinary. It felt as though they were all reaching out to each other to acknowledge, that yes, they had been there and done that and come out the other side to find a much better and fulfilling work and family life. Interestingly, not one person felt that since making the changes they had made a mistake and all were, I could tell immediately, extremely grateful to be able to spend more time with their children. Amazing. There wasn’t one person who felt that the changes had affected the quality of their work and all were happy to do a little more work in the evenings if needed during busy periods at work. Essentially, none of these fathers had become less committed or dedicated to their work and employer just so they could become a little more dedicated to the care of their children. When making my post on social media, I really wasn’t sure what people’s reactions were going to be but all of them resoundingly felt so pleased to have made the decision to find a better way to work and to bring up their family.
And so I finish this blog with a warm haze of optimism that just as flexible working provides women with huge benefits that large salaries alone simply can’t buy, men benefit just as much and in many of the same ways and of course, we haven’t even touched upon the way that children of mums and dads seeking a better work-life balance benefit too. The more that men who have made the jump are prepared to stand up and shout about the way it has worked for them, the more other men will start to see that this way of working is what they want too. Whilst the initial reaction of many people is that women have the raw deal when it comes to being able to achieve a better work-life balance, perhaps it’s actually those men out there who are striving to achieve this who have the tougher time. Perhaps whilst women have to fight in order to preserve their careers, men have to battle to preserve their place in the lives of their children, but we all want the same thing, the right for us all to have the choice, the choice to make things work for us and our families and our professional lives too. There is still much to do to make flexible working mainstream for women and I do feel that there is even more to do to achieve the same for men but as long as there are those men out there brave enough to take the leap and embrace this other way of working and to be proud to stand up and admit it, then I know that we will get there. So to all of our Available Experts who just happen to be men, thank you, your experiences will help to shape the lives of more and more of our husbands and partners in years to come and I for one am off to show my husband what he can do too.