Flexible Working Day, on 21 June, is an opportunity to celebrate and showcase how flexible working can benefit all employees and employers. Founder Vanessa Vanderhoek invited me to write about flexible work and, of course, I'm pretty excited about the topic.
I remember my dad telling me about how after I was born by emergency caesarean his boss wouldn’t give him any extra time off work to care for my mum and me. He was really upset about this.
More than three decades later very little has changed.
We often talk about flexible work as something really great for mums so they can fit their job in around their kids. But in reality, when men don’t have access to the same flexible working hours as women, then flexible work becomes another trap for mothers, another glass ceiling that makes it impossible for women to ever compete on a level playing field professionally.
When a mother is sick, a father rarely takes time off work. I’ve known women with gastro or flu who are barely able to care for themselves, let alone keep their children safe as well. Too often they are left alone with children for long hours whilst the husband goes to work. Men don’t have the flexibility required to step in and parent when they are desperately needed by their families, both for the health of their partners and the safety of their children.
During school holidays, fathers rarely take time off work. I remember a woman I worked with before I had children myself who used to bring her two primary school aged boys in to the office during the school holidays and they would play computer games in the corner whilst she tried to work. Needless to say she was frustrated and distracted.
When children have appointments, fathers rarely take time off work. Recently my husband took our daughter to the paediatrician and he looked up from the file as my husband walked in and said “Hello Julia... Oh, it’s usually the mums who come in!” He had to look back at his notes to even find my husband's name.
When children are sick and home from school, a father rarely takes time off work. I’ve known mothers to cancel important business meetings or call ten billion babysitters because their men just aren’t available.
I know there will be families reading this who have achieved more gender equality, or perhaps even reversed the stereotyped roles, but the numbers are in: you are in the minority.
Only 5% of fathers work part time, and the wage gap is still stuck somewhere between 16% and 23%.
It is still vastly women who have the flexibility they need at work in order to care for their children. And men still carry on with their careers like it’s the 1950s.
I’m not suggesting all men want this. I suspect many men feel as trapped by their work for money as women do by their domesticity. I know many men who would rather spend more time with their children, and many women who would be happy to take a family pay cut in order to have dads around more.
More flexibility for men at work would allow them to step into their roles at home with more joy and commitment, and allow more women to stay engaged in their careers if they wished. Men could spend more time bonding with their children and take on their load of the housework, women could have some respite when they are sick or exhausted, or maybe take on some study or work for money.
How Do We Change This?
We demand it!
If you are a dad craving more work life balance you are are going to have to rock the boat a little. Ask for that 9-day fortnight. Say you can no longer come to breakfast meetings because you need to drop the kids at school. Take the carers leave that you are entitled too. Demand time-in-lieu so that all those late nights mean you can knock off early on a Friday.
Yes, you’ll have to stick your neck out and it might affect your career prospects, but how do you think women have been feeling since the 1950s? Until you start campaigning along side us we’ll never be able to get the change we are all craving.
You and your family will ALL be happier for it!