Dads at work – the new frontier of gender equality

Dad and baby, international men's day, working dad

Article by Han Son Lee, Founder of DaddiLife

Modern day dads have gone through a generational shift when it comes to parenting, and as many as 9 in 10 modern day dads are now actively involved day to day.

These are dads shaking off traditional stereotypes of being thought of as a ‘secondary parent,’ or parents who should just ‘be just at work.’

So why are workplaces on the whole so slow to change around this new dynamic, and could dads be the missing link for wider gender equality across the organisation?

The pandemic changed a lot for fathers, where working from home didn’t become an option, but a mandatory working practice for many. And far from rebelling, dads en masse saw the new opportunity it gave them to be present in the everyday moments with their families. It opened eyes, hearts and minds to a way of working that suddenly felt different in a great way – though of course still with its stresses – here’s looking at you homeschooling.

Think of this for the moment – dads who became parents for the first time during Covid potentially haven’t known anything but working from home and being there day to day with their babies and family for the past 2 years.

And this attitude didn’t just start during Covid. Our research in partnership with Deloitte in 2019 showed that modern day dads were already driving this change, and voting with their feet – with 33% having left since becoming a dad to find a role with greater work/parental balance, and another 33% ‘actively looking.’ But what started before the pandemic certainly accelerated with it, so why is there still a narrative and a belief system that dads should just be at work?

There are a few factors still driving this:

  1. Culture change is like driving a tanker: Looking at board rooms up and down the land, they are still, on the whole, led by men from a previous generation. This is a group of men who can often struggle to empathise with a new generation of dads because their own parenting approach was more traditional. This isn’t a criticism – family dynamics are what they were, and quite possibly worked well and still do for some families. And there’s nothing wrong with that. But it does mean that driving a 180 degree change is challenging. The tension between ‘boardroom dad’ and ‘modern day dad’ is something we often talk about at DaddiLife and it means that change isn’t always going to start at the top. This is even more important to be aware of as we need more dads to:
  2. Not just speak up, but connect up: Strong stoicism is how a lot of men at work operate. Feelings and emotions are often repressed, and being the rebel who speaks up or challenges the status quo can, and often does, still result in being put on the ‘B’ track or given the grunt work. It’s not that dads at work don’t have thoughts and desires to drive change, but the risks to their career in an environment that doesn’t celebrate dad inclusion, means that driving change is a challenge.
  3. So what if men could connect together over their fatherhood at work? For the past 3 years we’ve been running a number of mentoring programmes for dads, and the effects are transformative in creating true safe spaces for progress to be made. More ways for dads to connect, as dads, is what will drive more change more quickly , and also unlock wider family opportunities as a whole.
  4. Ignore fathers at your peril: As we shared earlier, dads are already voting with their feet. At a time where it is imperative that organisations keep the progress for women at work moving forward, we must also factor in how fathers are an important part of that equation. Families up and down the country don’t often feel they can have progressive conversations about the shapes of work that work for them. And organisations are at a juncture now, more so than ever, to be in front of that – and to offer the right policies, behaviours, and wider culture that helps families, and therefore organisations, thrive. The alternative is a talent drain that will happen faster than they realise.

There has been a lot of progress in the last two years in the world of work, but there is still a lot more to be done and that change must be driven by dads themselves bringing more of their dad identity into work, and driving different ways of working that work for them and those around them.

About the author

Han-Son Lee Founder DaddilifeHan Son Lee is Founder of DaddiLife – The Parenting Website for Dads  an online parenting platform for dads which aims to provide a safe space for dads to talk about parenting issues and relationships with their children.  Han Son also campaigns for better parenting rights for dads at work and more understanding of the role that fathers play in a child’s life. Han-Son personally led the research programmes into the modern day dad including The Dad Index and The Millennial Dad at Work and his work has been profiled in the likes of The Financial Times and the Daily Telegraph.


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