Think of the last time you felt annoyed, frustrated or even mildly irritated with your partner because they were either working longer hours than they should or they weren’t contributing their fair share of household or childcare duties? Did you know that over 44% of all UK divorcees state that lack of equality was a contributing factor in their split? Can you imagine the impact on family and young people’s wellbeing if we were to get this statistic down? I believe there’s a way.
Let’s start with the gender problem
In the UK, we have a gender pay gap of over 18%. And over 2 million women aged 16 to 64 aren’t working because they are looking after their family or home. There are still 12 all-male boards on the FTSE 100 companies and only 23% of women sit on the FTSE 350 boards. Over the years, organisations such a McKinsey, Deloitte, KPMG, PwC and many others have conducted huge pieces of research identifying the reasons for the barriers to female progression as well as the business case for creating more gender balance. And this has led to significant investment in positive action programmes – women only leadership development initiatives, women only mentoring and coaching programmes. We have a problem with women progressing in the workplace so we can sort the problem by supporting women, right?
Wrong. Women aren’t in a bubble all by themselves, they’re part of a whole system, i.e. their organisation, their families and society. So, without focusing on the system, there’s very little change we’ll see in gender statistics above. It’s a classic case of misdirection – definition: “the action or process of directing someone to the wrong place or in the wrong direction”.
We need to focus on men
In 2016, I conducted a piece of research focusing on the impact of organisational culture on fathers’ decision to work flexibly. Nearly 800 men completed the survey and highlighted the key barriers to working flexibly:
- If team members made negative comments and judgements about people working flexibly. For example, looking at their watches and remarking “good afternoon” when walking through the door at 9:30am.
- If there wasn’t overt organisational support for flexible working. More than just having a policy in place, this was about whether it was positively communicated and if there was a culture of presenteeism.
- If they thought their line manager might view the request poorly. Men were unlikely to even broach the subject unless they were confident it wouldn’t be negatively received.
- If they thought it would negatively impact their career progression. 74% of men who didn’t work flexibly feared how it would be viewed internally.
By shining the torch on the flip side of the gender coin, my research clearly highlights the discrimination men face in making a request traditionally made by women.
When men work flexibly….
….there are a significant number of positive consequences.
Firstly, when men played an equal or main caregiver role in childcare, 47% of female partners had progressed their career since having had children. When men played very little or a moderate role in childcare activities, only 26% of female partners had progressed their career. That’s a 21% difference in female career progression. So, the organisational culture where a man works impacts his actions and behaviour to work flexibly and be active in childcare, which then impacts his female partner’s career progression. To me, this is logical and yet we have spent barely any time focusing on supporting men.
Secondly, working in an organisation that has a positive attitude towards men working flexibly increased their satisfaction with their work-family balance. The contemporary man wants more than purely the provider and weekend father to his children. He wants to be an active father and this contributes to his overall life satisfaction. So, offering greater opportunity for men to lead more balanced lives contributes to their health and wellbeing, reducing stress and increasing life expectancy.
Thirdly, a positive flexible working culture for all employees – both men and women – creates an organisation where everyone is working in a different way that suits both the needs of the business and the individual. This then creates a level playing field for recruitment or promotion decisions and takes the unconscious bias off the table. So, it is a way of creating fair selection and allowing more women to progress up the leadership chain.
And finally, when men work flexibly, they’re more present at home. They have the autonomy to make the decision to leave work at 4pm, feed and bath the kids and log back on after they’re asleep. There is less need for their female partner to feel aggrieved because she’s having to sacrifice her career or, as is often the case, trying to do it all. It expands the opportunity for a tag team relationship. So less disputes and, I would argue, fewer divorces.
How do we achieve this?
We need to tackle organisational culture at its heart, starting at the top of every organisation and getting CEOs and senior leaders to recognise and believe in the business case for gender balance.
We need to work with every layer of management to believe the business case, role model flexible working and learn how to manage a flexible workforce.
We need men to pick up the baton and start working flexibly even though there isn’t a precedent in their company because the more role models, the more men will do it and less likely it will be stigmatised.