Bramwith MD Saffa Ayub discusses how we can empower both women and men in the workplace by helping everyone achieve the best work-life balance.
We talk a lot about women in the workplace – how to raise the number of female senior managers; how to help women with children keep working – and the barriers to female achievement.
In this blog, I want to talk about working men.
First I should set out my stall as an active and vocal supporter of women’s rights and equality in the workplace, having run conferences on Women in Recruitment and Diversity & Inclusion in 2017. Bramwith Consulting was also voted one of BITC’s best UK employers for BAME people in 2017.
My commitment to equality is driven by my own experience. Only 21% of SME enterprises in the UK are run by women – I’m one of them. As an ethnic minority woman (half-Indian, half-Arab), the odds are stacked even further against me, as recent research by the Chartered Management Institute and British Academy of Management shows only 6% of UK management jobs are held by ethnic minorities. I also have two young children aged 8 and 2. I know just how tough it is to balance work & family life.
More seriously, I think that if we really want to achieve gender equality in the workplace, we need to think about men just as much as women – in particular, working fathers. If we focus only on women, we are only addressing half the problem. Especially when it comes to working parents we need to help fathers break out of the ‘breadwinner’ mould as much as we support mothers to take it on – if that’s what they want.
Part of the reason I’ve been able to achieve what I have is having a supportive partner who pulls his weight at home and enabling me to build the company (together with a number of very valuable colleagues). We are both driven and ambitious, and we make sure we split childcare duties in a way that reflects this. But clearly this is not the picture for many other families.
The gender gap hits as soon as people start a family. A recent report showed that only around 2% of men took up the shared parental leave (SPL) offered by the government since 2015. This is partly due to lack of awareness but also likely to be due to financial realities and working culture.
Men still tend to be the main breadwinner, so taking SPL (which offers £140 a week or 90% of your salary, whichever is lower) may be too big a financial hit. Equally, men still feel anxiety about asking for time off, be that 6 months paternity leave or flexi-time to help pick up kids from school.
It can be a vicious circle – the mum takes on most of the parental responsibility while kids are babies and this then becomes a habit: school pick-ups, doctor and dentist visits, time off when children are sick – this defaults automatically to the woman. If we really want change, we need a culture shift so dads feel truly able to assume primary carer responsibilities.
The Working Families Modern Family Index report for 2017 showed that one-fifth of fathers said their employer was unsympathetic about childcare, expecting no disruption to work, and men were twice as likely as women to think that flexible working would have a negative impact on their career.
The 2018 report showed that 18% of working parents have deliberately stalled their careers to get a better work-life balance, with 1 in 10 rejecting a promotion, and fewer than half (46%) felt that flexible working was an option in their workplace.
As someone who is driven to succeed and wants their employees to feel that same motivation and drive, I’d be hugely disappointed if someone turned down a promotion because they felt it would impact too much on family life. So what can employers do to try and turn this around?
At Bramwith we do our utmost to encourage work-life balance. All men and women at the company are offered home working, flexi hours, equal maternity and paternity pay and family days which allow parents to take time off for events like sports days or carol services.
We also place high value on employees’ mental health, offering pre-work gym and yoga sessions, extended lunch breaks and access to a psychologist / therapist paid for by Bramwith.
I want my son and daughter to have a genuine choice in their careers, regardless of gender. Whether they want to be high-achieving globe-trotters, full-time primary carers or – most likely – to have a life that allows time for work and family. I’m trying to make my company a place where I’d be happy for them to work.
What else can we do to help working fathers spend as much time as they’d like with family, and reduce the pressure of being the main breadwinner? Comment below – or get in touch with me on firstname.lastname@example.org to find out more about the benefits we at Bramwith offer all employees.
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