Why it’s time for men to take over the workplace flexibility conversation

Photo: Shutterstock
Photo: Shutterstock 

I'm sick of hearing women talk about work life balance.

As International Women's Day approached earlier this month, my news feeds were full of "success stories" of women who are balancing career and kids. They are often full of helpful tips like "Pack the kids' bags and put out your clothes the night before!" or "Don't feel bad rushing out the door at 5pm, family dinner is non-negotiable!"

Once upon a time I would have found this advice helpful, but by now, quite frankly, I am over it. I am fed up that work-life balance and flexibility have been sidelined as women's issues. I am fed up with women assuming the responsibility for ensuring the household functions properly just so she can we can do a second shift in the workplace. I am sick of these articles only being read, commented on and shared by women. When was the last time a man was asked how he balances work and home life?

Now I know that there are plenty of men who are active, engaged parents and share the load. I see them at school pickup, I see them taking their daughters to ballet class and trying to pin a bun, I see them comforting cranky toddlers on the train on the way home. I know them, I am married to one. But rarely do I see men speak to other men about these issues.

The absurdity of how differently the work-life issue is framed for men is highlighted by the satirical social media account Man Who Has it All.

Take this post from last week:

At least three mothers have shared this tip with me (unironically) over the years. Framed for fathers it looks absurd — mainly because it is so far removed from what we perceive as a man's role in the home.

When we make workplace flexibility a female issue, it only entrenches the status quo, where three in five (61 per cent) of employed women with a child under 5 work part time, while less than one in ten fathers of young children (8.4 per cent) do.

Advertisement

Men I've spoken to have been refused flexible options such as part-time or working from home and are ridiculed by their workmates or penalised by their employers for taking time off work to care for sick children ('don't you have a wife to do that, mate?')

As a former employer, I can tell you there was nothing more frustrating than having a part-time female employee call in for carer's leave on her only two days in the office because "her husband isn't allowed to take it." He is actually, and it's illegal for employers not to allow it in genuine circumstances. By sharing the load, time away from the office is minimised for both workplaces.

By re-framing issues of flexibility and work-life balance with fathers in mind we might see an end to after-work networking drinks (replaced by lunchtime events), opportunities which women frequently miss out on as they rush to childcare pick up. We'd hopefully open up space for men to share their struggles with colleagues and put forward more flexible solutions for themselves and their teams, especially important for single dads who don't have an extra set of hands at home.

This change will not happen just from women being vocal — we are, and while we have made gains, such as paid parental leave, there are some large cultural attitudes to shift. So men, please take the baton from us. Write op-eds about fatherhood. Ask your male colleagues how they juggle it all. And for the love of god please organise Easter school holiday care, I hear that places are booking up.

This article was originally published here