Last year was transformative for how society sees fatherhood, and could produce the most profound shift in caring responsibilities since World War II.
The pandemic, and the subsequent lockdowns introduced to limit the spread of Covid-19, has caused a surge of parental responsibilities being taken on by men.
How the pandemic has changed parental responsibilities
In May 2020, the Office for National Statistics (ONS) found that the first lockdown led to a 58 per cent increase in childcare undertaken by men, whose working hours dropped by one hour and 37 minutes a day. While women still did more childcare, the gender care gap narrowed: comparatively, the ONS found in 2015 that men were spending 39 per cent of the time that women spent on childcare.
These changes are already having an impact on society, with some senior politicians calling for the rebalancing of parental responsibilities to be solidified through legislation and by businesses.
Late last month, Ed Miliband, the shadow business secretary, called for fathers to be offered a “use it or lose it” paternity leave lasting at least three months, claiming that the current system encourages a “men at work, women at home culture”.
It’s easy to see the logic in Miliband’s argument and why he cited the “use it or lose it” model, first employed in Iceland and Denmark, as an example of how to deal with paternity leave.
The argument for increasing paternity leave
In 1995 when Iceland had no paid paternity leave, men took just 0.1 per cent of leave. However, five years later, when fathers became entitled to two weeks’ paid leave – the same as Britain offers today – the numbers rose to 3 per cent taking total leave.
Today, with each parent in Iceland entitled to five months off work with 80 per cent of their salary, men take 30 per cent of the total.
Previous attempts at legislative reform have fallen flat and many will be looking to businesses to make the changes to their parental leave policies to match the shift in caring responsibilities caused by the pandemic.
However, there are other policies business leaders could use to support fathers seeking to spend more time at home with their children.
How flexible working can support new fathers
One option is flexible working where employees could choose which hours they work as long as they do their 7.5 hours. This could involve a start time no later than 10am and a finish time no earlier than 4pm so it doesn’t disrupt other employees as much.
Introducing this degree of flexibility could allow parents to do the school run a few times a week or spend time with their children before they go to bed in the evening.
Why businesses should reward and recognise fathers
The pandemic has altered both our working and home lives and, as we emerge out of lockdown and into a ‘new normal’, we all have a difficult decision to make about which changes we want to keep and which we want to discard.
Naturally, the last 15-months have been terrible, but some positive societal changes have developed too. The pandemic has helped to re-address the gender imbalance among parental responsibilities and these changes should be celebrated and encouraged. Through a select few policies, business leaders can take the initiative and seek to make this more balanced approach permanent.
Danni Rush is chief customer officer at Virgin Experience Days and Virgin Incentives