This month marks 18 years since asking for ‘Flexible Working’ first became a legal right, with it initially only covering parents with children under six, or a disabled child under the age of eighteen. While flexible working has most often been defined by women asking for part-time in order to provide care to children, fathers are often overlooked or denied the opportunity.
Speaking to a legal and business affairs consultant, he highlighted one of the issues that faces men in the workplace:
“There is a stigma attached to men who request flexible working, as they are [perceived as] not able to prioritise their job.”
There is an unconscious bias that if you are male you can attend a meeting at the drop of the hat. Sometimes these will be automatically scheduled for 8:30 am, making the school run an impossible ask. This is the case for the majority of big corporations making co-parenting a challenge. Some people may feel that by asking for flexible working that their career can be compromised.
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“It’s a given that you will be able to attend meeting at any time throughout the day and it is not contemplated at all that you have children”
Sarah Jackson OBE the past CEO of the charity, Working Families, discussed this issue on Women’s Hour. She feels that it is only through equal flexible working for both fathers and mothers, that there will be the ability for men to share in caregiving for children.
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“The most important thing that needs to happen here is for employers to really actively start saying to their men, ‘we know you want to be active fathers because there is a whole generation of young men who do want to be active fathers.’”
The crux of the issue here is that “Men, when they do ask, are more likely to be turned down so there is a real bias there in the system”. Whilst this is still an issue, it is only through more dads requesting to work flexibly that it will become more acceptable.
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Finland is particularly ahead of the world when it comes to working flexibly. In 1996 they passed the Working Hours Act which allowed employees to adjust their working hours up to three hours earlier or later. Their latest act allows workers the freedom to choose where they work for at least half of their hours. While we can only hope that the UK might follow in their footpath, what is evident is that more dads need to start requesting flexible working now!