Do we talk enough about being a dad at work?

Man sitting at desk with his children, working from home, working parent, International men's day, working father

Article by Han Son Lee, Founder of DaddiLife

How many times have you seen or heard of a dad being truly vulnerable and open at work?

And when I say vulnerable and open I mean bringing their real self to a situation that affects their parenting?

I’m going to go out on a limb and say probably not that many times, if at all.

It would be all too tempting to think that not seeing this vulnerability means dads don’t want to be open, that they don’t want to change the stereotypes of dads at work; that they don’t want flexible working, that they don’t want to take that enhanced parental leave policy, and that they don’t want to fundamentally change the way they work around their new families. But in fact the very opposite is true. The truth is, there still aren’t enough  safe spaces for dads to not only be a colleague at work, but also a dad at work.

Fatherhood changes everything for dads

The latest science has shown that fatherhood does actually rewire men’s brains – releasing more oxytocin and increasing  emotional triggers to get  them even more ready for fatherhood and nurturing.

And we’ve heard from hundreds, if not thousands of fathers, that they want a different way of working once they become a dad. Our  research in partnership with Deloitte pre pandemic showed that fathers were already feeling this way with 33% leaving their jobs since becoming a dad to get better work/life balance, and another 33% actively looking. These figures stayed remarkably consistent across our follow up Dads in Lockdown study too.

That retention problem only widened during the pandemic as more dads experienced a different way of working, and for dads who became a father for the first time during the pandemic, they’ve likely not known a different way of working but regularly working from home and being actively involved every day with their new babies.

It compounds the need for us to start thinking about how we create genuinely safe spaces for dads at work.

Why do fathers need a safe space?

More  dads want to be equal parents so it’s vital that we address the elephant in the room about why they need a safe space.

Organisational Culture on the whole still treats dads like they should just be at work.

In boardrooms up and down the land there isn’t the same level of focus on dads as a parent as there is a mum or carer. And it means that when dads do want to open up and create change, they have very real fears and concerns about being seen as a ‘rebel,’ and we’ve heard far too many stories of men who return to work having enabled a change, being put on the ‘B-track’ or given the ‘grunt work’ as a punishment of speaking out.

The other factor that compounds this isn’t just the boardroom leadership, it’s also day to day management that can’t emphasise why dads would want to do things differently to generations gone by.

Many fathers want to take an active role in parenting but find it impossible to do so in many workplaces, and move beyond the ‘weekend dad’ stereotype.

So how do we reverse this? The key is to create the environment where dads can actually be dads at work. That’s why for the last couple of years we’ve partnered with The Parent Mentor to embed a dad to dad mentoring programme for dads at work. In that programme we work with HR teams to create an intentional programme where we bring dads together in a different way to progress, and to be truly open with each other, and the wider organisation. We’ve seen it transform cultures – and not just for dads either, but around the conversations that dads, mums and carers have.

Here have been my learnings on it:

  1. Parenting is many roles: In a lot of the dad to dad conversations, there isn’t just one role of ‘dad’ that these men discuss – it’s multiple, and it grows as our parenting journeys grow. What’s been so interesting is that the dads have had different needs of their employers during these times – across parental leave, but also across the type of work pattern and communication beyond that.
  2. From solid blocks to flexible lines: Fatherhood really does change men. Dads are finding ways to be more flexible around their families’ needs, even in some cases without official organisational support. But this unofficial flexibility has a limit – often much to the detriment of dads and their families.
  3. Being a pioneer: There’s a lot we discuss in the programme about what positive change for dads would look and feel like. And we always say that the first cohort in any organisation are true pioneers. Because they are. But they aren’t pioneering as a single voice – but as a collective dad voice. That’s powerful and drives change a lot quicker.

We all know that workplaces and work practices have changed a lot since the pandemic but for many fathers at work who want to actively parent, workplace culture still has some catching up to do and how your organisation creates a true safe space for the dad conversation is the vital step forward.

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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