Posted on 24th May, 2022

How workplaces can support caregiving fathers

Within the UK, the model of full-time working father and part-time working mother continues to be the predominant way that modern couples organise family life. While this more traditional division of work and family responsibilities is the preference for some, many families are keen to move away from this model to one in which there is a more equal division of roles and responsibilities. However, my research suggests this is not without its challenges. Specifically, it identifies that when fathers try to take an active role in caregiving they face numerous ‘fatherhood forfeits’.

What is the fatherhood forfeit? 

My ‘Fatherhood Forfeit’ research has found that caregiving fathers face specific challenges when they attempt to take an active role in the parenting of their children. The ‘fatherhood forfeit’ has four main elements:

  • Fathers are less likely to obtain a role that allows them to combine caregiving and work (such as part-time employment).
  • Caregiving fathers are considered as secondary parents to mothers.
  • Caregiving fathers obtain less workplace support for caregiving than mothers.
  • Caregiving fathers face ‘social mistreatment’- they face mockery, are viewed as idle, struggle with friendships, face negative judgement and are viewed with suspicion when they attempt to reduce their working hours for caregiving.

Why does the fatherhood forfeit matter to the people profession?

It is suggested that the fatherhood forfeit in its different guises acts as a force that pushes caregiving fathers towards full-time working, creating a significant barrier to fathers in undertaking an active role in the caregiving of their children. Such a traditional pattern of employment for parents may negatively impact upon the fathers themselves, their families and ultimately play a part in the continuation of the gender pay gap which peaks when adults become parents. To reduce the ‘Fatherhood Forfeit’ there are a number of potential interventions that could be employed within organisations.

Key recommendations for reducing fatherhood forfeits in the workplace

  • Equalise organisational policy and leave arrangements between mothers and fathers. Such equalisation of the organisational leave policy for parents alters the climate from one of negotiation, that is fraught with challenges and bias, to one of entitlement. This approach adopted by Aviva and John Lewis has resulted in large increases in the uptake of parental leave. Increased mandatory paternity leave periods that are non-transferable and ‘use it or lose it’ parental leave entitlements are highlighted as having a key role in the equalising of parental load in the post-pandemic workplace.
  • Specific training for managers on dealing with flexible working requests from fathers and how to support fathers in the workplace. The introduction of management training focused on both information provision and exploring attitudes towards family friendly policies is becoming increasingly important and has been highlighted as being a central way that organisations can manage in the post Covid-19 recovery period.
  • Establish clear policies in relation to flexible working and ensure they are promoted internally, in a gender neutral way with senior management role modelling them. The importance of establishing clear policies has come to the fore during the pandemic in which employers and colleagues have gained a greater understanding that both parents may require more flexibility and it has become increasingly important to be explicit in organisational policies and internal communications that flexible working options are available to men as well as women with the aim of normalising men’s uptake.
  • Consider advertising all roles as flexible from the outset. Initiatives such as the #flexforall and #flexappeal campaigns are gaining momentum in the UK, highlighting the mutually beneficial nature of flexibility for both parents. Such campaigns place emphasis on the importance of establishing a model of flexible working as a ‘day-one’ right for all, with the aim of reducing gender inequality and in turn reducing the impact of the ‘Fatherhood Forfeits’.
  • Review bullying and harassment policies to minimise the social mistreatment of caregiving fathers, specifically, the forfeits of mockery and negative judgement. For many participants in the ‘fatherhood forfeit’ research, mockery often emerged as ‘light hearted banter’, however, it is recommended that organisations adopt a zero-tolerance policy against such micro-aggressions to minimise the transmission of a message which implies that being a caregiving father is not culturally acceptable.
  • Expansion of unconscious bias training to specifically address the mistreatment of caregiving fathers. Such training could involve exploring how caregiving fathers are often judged suspiciously, considered to be idle or less likely to obtain flexibility to manage their work-life balance and how to avoid such bias within the workplace.
  • Establish mentoring and coaching  schemes for fathers. Many organisations (such as Scottish ParliamentNestle and British Land) have utilised mentoring to shift organisational norms to a position of gender equality for both parents. Mentoring schemes can have the benefit of improved handover between employees before and after a period of leave, enable the building and maintenance of supportive networks within the organisation and directly address the fatherhood forfeit of ‘struggling with friendships’.
  • Establish a fatherhood forum. Fatherhood forums, utilised by companies such as PwC and National Grid, create a sense of community for fathers within the workplace, providing a space in which to discuss concerns regarding work-family demands, share common challenges and ways to overcome them.
  • Ongoing monitoring of the success of any interventions and making appropriate adjustments.

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