Children and Work? Changing the Double Standards for Working Mums and Dads
The disparity between what’s expected of working dads and working mums is still an issue.
There is still a greater burden on working mums to be parent and worker. And it’s a burden
that needs to be removed.
Conversely, it’s not uncommon for working fathers to be given less flexibility than working
mothers. And dads who want to play a bigger role can be left behind in cultures that support
mums primarily or even expect mums to be the ones balancing childcare and a career.
Being a working parent, mother or father, doesn’t have to mean choosing between family
and work. But many UK employers are behind, lacking the flexibility that’s required to create
change. And even mums have challenges in getting that flexibility.
A workplace where people can genuinely balance their work with their family commitments
improves everyone’s wellbeing. When both working parents are supported and can support
each other, it works for children, parents and employees.
It’s time for organisations to rethink what they think they know about working fathers – and
working parents in general.
Double Standards at Work or Just Plain Old Double Standards?
Picture the scene. A mum walks through a park pushing her child in a pushchair. She’s on
the phone. That’s bad. She’s perhaps seen as an inattentive parent. A dad does the same…
he’s a good dad. He’s helping out.
Artist and instagrammer momlife_comics (real name Mary Catherine Starr) highlighted these
double standards in parenting through her popular online comic book series.
She commented: ‘This is not a dig at dads, it’s a dig at our society—a society that applauds
dads for handling the most basic of parenting duties and expects nothing short of perfection
And it’s these kinds of double standards that can also carry through to the workplace.
In the workplace, it’s often expected for mums to balance work and family exclusively of
each other. You are a mum. And an employee. Just not at the same time.
And for dads? The work pressures may not be exactly the same as above, but then often
dads aren’t given the same flexibility as a mum. Or perceived as needing it, which is just as
wrong. It’s far less likely a dad will request parental leave if one of his kids is sick.
In contrast, it’s often a given that a mum will be the one to take herself out of work for the
day to look after the children or leave the office early to do the school run.
Many dads aren’t aware that they have the right to flexibility. Equally many managers don’t
realise dads also have the right to flexibility. And in some cases, organisations are unwilling
to consider it.
But also look at it from a practical standpoint. When a child is too ill to attend school, how
can a father play a proper role if the assumption is always that ‘the mum will look after the
child’? But mum is also still expected to meet the basic requirements of her working role.
And what if the assumption that ‘mum will do it’ is so ingrained in the culture, or where there
are benefits for fathers they are so unclear, that the father doesn’t feel he can even ask?
The Right to Flexible Working
Flexible working is every employee’s right; not just parents and not just mums. Unfortunately
there are many such benefits for working fathers that slip under the radar.
The laws regarding flexible working and parental leave apply to gender diverse parents,
same-sex partners, and civil partners too. It’s illegal to be discriminated against by your
employer for your sexual orientation. As a gay parent, you’re entitled to the same maternity
and paternity rights as heterosexual parents. The same also applies if you are adopting,
fostering or using a surrogate.
You Can’t Have Children and a Career?
According to a report from WOMBA in partnership with Hult International Business School,
both mums and dads are worried about the effect that taking parental leave and parental
requests, such as flexible working, will have on their job and career prospects.
If you’re a single parent things can be even trickier. For single working parents there might
be literally no-one who can help out when a child is taken ill.
In this scenario, leaning on the organisation’s flexibility and support is vital, and the need to
promote that flexibility becomes even greater. Parents shouldn’t feel the latest outbreak of
chickenpox is a nail in the coffin for their career.
There’s also a real worry among working parents about how they are perceived
professionally following a return to work after a period of parental leave. In effect they are
worried that as parents they will now be seen as ‘lesser’ employees.
But these can be addressed easily.
Also read: Supporting parents returning to work
Even when fathers are aware of their rights, the report also found that dads tended to find
‘formal policies were difficult to navigate’ and that ‘effective communication with HR was
It’s a cultural issue that can be addressed at every level of an organisation. So how can
organisations make changes?
Better Strategies for Better Working
Organisations should make it possible to succeed as a working parent. Leaders can create
supportive and inclusive workplaces that understand the challenges faced by working
parents and single working parents:
● Talk to dads and understand their requirements – the organisation leaders should
speak with parents and understand the extent of support that is required, in order to find mutually beneficial outcomes. Employee resource groups are ideal for getting feedback.
● Properly structuring hybrid working options – by creating properly structured
hybrid opportunities, all parents can plan their time effectively and leaders can
support working parents.
● Create gender neutral and equal leave for parents – offer equal parental leave that
actively includes time off for fathers, giving fathers equal opportunities to be involved
with their children and their family responsibilities.
● Create a culture where flexible working is normal – flexible work arrangements,
such as online meetings, flexible hours, or job-sharing will allow parents to properly
balance their responsibilities for work and parenting.
● Deliver training and support to managers and leaders and deliver specialist
support to working parents – create a workplace that supports parents, including
opportunities for promoting diversity and inclusion.
● Promote the new policies – don’t hide the new policies. Actively promote them to
the organisation’s people. It will help create an environment of well being.
Making the Change
From work colleagues to the board members, from lawmakers and politicians to the parents
themselves, everyone plays a part in moving workplace culture from the idea of ‘working
mums’ and towards ‘working parents’ that affords working fathers the same opportunities as
Organisations should implement family-friendly policies that are accessible to all employees.
Parental status and gender plays no part. It’s an inclusive environment where people don’t
feel they are at risk of discrimination.
And bring everyone into the conversation, so those who aren’t parents don’t feel that working
parents are more significant.
How Tell Jane Can Help
Increasingly, proper equality is becoming a standard requirement of employees looking to
work at an organisation and tools like our training workshops can help you support all
parents in your workforce.
Tell Jane workshops are delivered by skilled trainers with lived experiences. Leaders can
discuss how to make all parents feel welcome in the workplace and see how this could be
achieved at your company. Email email@example.com to see how we can help your organisation.