We regularly see much written about motherhood and flexible working, yet less often do we get a glimpse in to the experiences of fathers and flexible working.
Sheryl Sandberg in ‘Lean In’ promulgates the notion that the man whom a woman chooses as their partner is one of the most significant career decisions she will make, especially if she is planning a family. This however is based on a premise that should the man wish to support his wife’s career there will be accessible flexible work schedules available to him if he desires to keep working himself.
Which leads us to examine how realistic this is in today’s current marketplace.
In 2014 the British Journal of Management published a paper titled ‘Parents, Perceptions & Belonging; Exploring flexible working among UK Fathers & Mothers’. The paper revealed concerning though unsurprising findings. The main finding confirmed that fathers experience great difficulties in attempting to access and utilise flexible working. Fathers reported a persistent classification of being an economic provider, which precluded them from access to flexible working. Responding to why they thought inflexible work requests were turned down, men related the situation to the gendered views about work and children to the line manager they reported directly to. ‘Managers considered flexibility to be irrelevant to fathers’.
These gender-stereotypes have not only been shown to impact on women advancing their careers, but have now been identified as impacting on men who are seeking to access the same privilege of balancing home life with work life.
The second concerning find was that many fathers attributed the inaccessibility to flexible working being due to maternal privileges. Some fathers felt resentful about what they viewed as ‘unfair privileges’ given to mothers over fathers. One would be hard pushed to view this as a successful outcome in an era when corporations are touting inclusion as a key element of their cultures.
An increasing amount of fathers today express desire to be involved in their children’s upbringing. According to social scientists, Millennial men — ages 18 to early 30s — have much more egalitarian attitudes about family, career and gender roles. Yet further researchers have shown that they are struggling to live according to these principles once they start a family. Workplace cultures that have not caught up with societal changes are cited as the cause.
The lack of flexible working options available to fathers assigns mothers to the primary-carer position. With the rise of assortive mating and educational homogamy this means that many highly qualified and talented women are lost in the pipeline as a result of fathers being unable to access family friendly work policies. It also leaves many fathers feeling excluded, resentful and dissatisfied that they are unable to pursue the life balance they desire.
And if it’s not bad enough that many men feel this whilst working for organisations that actually have flexible work policies in place, spare a thought for those who work for the 30 % of employers who would not consider offering flexible work patterns as cited in a recent report by the Centre for the Modern Family UK.
It is time for corporations to understand that millennial men are different to previous generations and to create new corporate cultures that reflect this. This means moving beyond policies into actual changes of attitudes. It is also time for corporations to understand the inextricable links between offering men flexible work and the progression of women in to senior leadership.
It is implausible for companies to claim that they are fully in support of female careers and advancing women into senior leadership positions without demonstrating that they are equally in support of men and flexible work.