Father’s Day: what businesses can do to improve the equal parenting gap

What are workplaces doing to recognise the needs of Dads in the workplace?

Lori Meakin, Founder of creative agency Joint, believes that if you really want to celebrate fathers, the industry should be talking about paternity leave.

Every year in June, many prepare to honour their dads and celebrate fatherhood on Father’s Day. However, research shows that more must be done to recognise the needs of Dad’s in the workplace to close the current equal parenting gap.

Our research demonstrated the ‘Equal Parenting Gap’, the difference between the role men themselves say they are willing to take in parenting and what they actually do, and has some important implications for the industry on paternity leave.

As an equal role in parenting will positively impact business, closing this Equal Parenting Gap will improve the wellbeing of men and women and bring us closer to achieving gender equality both in the workplace and the home, which will benefit us all.

A year on, after many months of lockdown, homeschooling and much personal loss to families across the nation, we again questioned 2,000 men and women to see what had changed and to understand better if and why this Equal Parenting Gap persists.

The Equal Parenting Gap, what is it?

We found that there is still a big gap between the role men want to play in parenting and what they are doing. 13 times more men told us they’d be happy to take a year’s unpaid leave to look after their children than the number who’ve recently taken up the Shared Parental Leave with a small amount of statutory pay that they’re entitled to. That figure remains as tiny as last year, at only 2% of eligible men.

  • 63% – more working mothers than working fathers said they’re taking on a lot more of the childcare and home-schooling responsibilities than their partners
  • 34% – of working dads said that more equal parenting is better for future generations
  • 22% – of the working mums listed ‘my partner wouldn’t want me to’ as a reason why they hadn’t taken more equal parenting roles

The role of the pandemic and the impact on parents

Lockdown has clearly been tough on both mums and dads. Our data shows a marked decline since last year in the numbers of both women and men who say they’d be happy to take a year’s unpaid leave to look after their children.

Interestingly that decline is bigger amongst men: 37% lower year on year for men versus 27% for women. And that’s even though it’s women who have been bearing a disproportionate amount of the additional domestic labour. 

An ONS study early in lockdown found that women spent 77% more time on childcare overall than men. Because some of those may well be stay at home mums, we asked just those parents in paid work how equally they were sharing the domestic duties during lockdown. We found that 63% more working mothers than working fathers said they’re taking on a lot more childcare and homeschooling responsibilities than their partners. And over a third of working dads admitted to doing either a little or a lot less of the childcare and homeschooling than their partner, whereas only 2% of working mums said the same.

Our early hopes of lockdown being the great parenting leveller appear somewhat misplaced.


Why does equal parenting benefit all of us?

But there is some good news. Whether parents or not, many people told us that mums and dads taking an equal role in parenting has significant benefits. Around half of both the working mothers and fathers questioned said that equal parenting would be better for their relationship. In addition, 34% of working dads and 42% of working mums said that more equal parenting is better for future generations, and that figure rises to 50% amongst those who aren’t parents. 

Twenty-four per cent of working mums said it would help their career; 28% said it would help close the gender pay gap; and 29% of working dads say it would improve mental health for men, a figure that rises to 44% amongst the predominantly younger men in our survey who aren’t parents.

Maybe that’s because more equal parenting would enable men, who still say they are much more caring and nurturing than society generally expects, to be able to exercise that part of themselves more fully. Likewise, the many women who identify themselves as more ambitious and competitive than society expects of their gender would be freer to pursue that ambition.

And we shouldn’t underestimate the positive impacts of both men and women living a life less constrained by society’s gender expectations. 

UM’s recent MANdate study found that nearly half of men aged 35+ and two-thirds of those aged 18-34 agreed that ‘male stereotypes could do real psychological damage’. Meanwhile, Jane Cunningham and Philippa Roberts’ study for their brilliant book Brandsplaining found that almost three-quarters of working mothers said they were ‘struggling with wellbeing’, 40% described themselves as ‘hanging by a thread’. Only 16% said they were satisfied with life overall.

There’s clearly a lot to be gained at a human level by un-gendering parenting. Enabling more working fathers to do what they want to do and share the parenting duties can positively impact the gender pay gap.

The benefits for businesses

But the benefits of creating a less gendered approach to parenting go way beyond the hundreds of thousands of families, current and future, gay and straight, that find traditional gender biases stifling and damaging. In addition, all businesses in the UK with 250+ people have to report on their gender pay gap, so making progress on closing that gap is imperative for those businesses and the women affected.

And although parenting is by no means the only cause of gender pay disparity, analysis from the Institute of Fiscal Studies has found that the gender pay gap widens after the birth of children. In fact, it widens consistently for 12 years after the first child is born, by which point working women receive 33% less pay per hour than men.

This IFS study found that 20 years after the birth of their first child, women have on average been in paid work for four years less than men. But the cost of that is not just the lost wages for those years, because those years at home looking after the children also impact their career progression and so their pay when they do re-join the workforce. For example, on returning to work, women’s wages were average 2% lower for each year spent out of paid work than women who’d had the same hourly wage as them before they left. And for more highly educated women, it was 4% lower for every year they’d spent out of paid work. 

Meanwhile, a Swedish study found that for every month of leave taken by men in the first year, the woman’s long-term salary was 6.7% higher. So, enabling more working fathers to do what they want to do and share the parenting duties can positively impact the gender pay gap. 

It’s also good for business more broadly. McKinsey have been pointing out since 2014 how better gender diversity has tangible business benefits, and in 2020 they claim that “the business case for inclusion and diversity is stronger than ever”.  

For instance, companies whose Exec teams are in the top quartile for gender diversity are 25% more likely to have above-average profitability versus companies whose Exec teams’ gender diversity was in the bottom quartile. And that profitability gap is widening over time; it’s now 66% higher than it was in 2014.

PWC recently calculated that increasing employment rates of women across the UK to match those in one of the best-performing regions, the South West, would generate a £48bn boost to UK GDP.

So, what’s stopping all those men who want to play a more equal parenting role?

Awareness doesn’t appear to be the biggest issue, although our data show that 15% of the working mothers and fathers we questioned still didn’t know they might be entitled to Shared Parental Leave that has existed since 2015. 

Finances were by far the biggest reason working mums and dads told us they hadn’t taken on an equal parenting role with their partner. Sadly, they’re right because while it’s the norm for many companies to enhance maternity pay above statutory provision, few offer the same for fathers wanting to take advantage of Shared Parental Leave. 

A 2020 study by PowWowNow found that 30% of fathers experienced a situation in which the female caregiver of their child had parental pay topped up while they did not. And in 2019, the Court of Appeal ruled that it’s perfectly legal for employers who offer enhanced maternity pay for their working mothers to offer only statutory pay to fathers taking Shared Parental Leave.

So, we find ourselves in a catch-22 situation where, because the gender pay gap means men are likely to earn more than their female partner, few couples are, as EMW put it, “willing to see their primary earner’s income fall to little more than £600 a month”. Whereas “if the scheme was incentivised better financially, this could help eliminate the gender pay gap and reverse the trend of women taking the brunt of childcare responsibilities while fathers returned to work.”

However, money alone can’t solve the problem. 24% of our working fathers and 22% of the working mums listed ‘my partner wouldn’t want me to’ as a reason why they hadn’t taken more equal parenting roles. Both genders give the reason ‘I don’t want my career to suffer’, 17% for working dads, 14% for working mums. And 14% of working mums and a significant 9% of working dads also admitted ‘I worry what other people think’. 

We can’t expect to accelerate change until we address those very real worries about the impact of time out of the labour market on a parent’s career progression and pay, and the expectations of society, and even one’s own partner, when it comes to parenting roles.

After all, when 38% of Gen Z, as in PLH’s study for Brandsplaining, strongly agree that ‘gender no longer defines a person’ and over half think ‘gender will be irrelevant in the future’, it’s clearly time for all of us to lean in and create change. Otherwise, we’ll simply be on the wrong side of history.

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