On Flexible Working And Equality

will we ever be equal

“A truly equal world would be one where women ran half our countries and companies and men ran half our homes,” says Sheryl Sandberg, COO of Facebook and author of Lean In. But with flexible working often seen as being acceptable for mums but not dads (how many dads do you know who look after the kids two days a week?) it’s fair to say we’re still a long way off Sheryl’s dream. Which is kinda depressing.

But (and it’s a big but) we’re starting to move towards it. It’s definitely becoming more acceptable for dads to work flexibly and on June 30th, the government introduced a change in law which allows anyone to request flexible working (Peninsula Financial Services have written a white paper on this, if you’re looking for details on it). So for the first time, employees without children or caring responsibilities can ask to work in a way that suits them. The rules are also being relaxed on the process that companies have to follow, making it easier for them too. Which, in theory, should mean that more people ask to work flexibly.

It’s a brilliant step forward and I’ve got high hopes that if more non-parents request flexible working, it’ll remove the stigma attached to it. And however you look at it, there is a stigma attached. Back before I had my daughter, I’m ashamed to say that I was that person doing a secret eye-roll when a colleague had to leave at 5pm to pick up their child from nursery. Ignorant? Yes. Happening in workplaces all over the country? Absolutely.

Never mind the fact that generally speaking, parents who work flexibly are paid accordingly and actually probably work harder than some of their colleagues, to ensure there’s no room for criticism of their performance or effort.

And actually, it’s in an employer’s interest to help employees achieve a work/life balance. They’ll have employees who are indebted to the organisation and who are really thinking about productivity. It’s a win/win situation.

Next year, there’s also going to be a change to paternity leave – dads can currently take up to 26 weeks of additional paternity leave before their baby turns one and once their partner has gone back to work. And there are plans to introduce shared parental leave in 2015 which will allow dads to take leave at the same time as their partner and at any time after the birth. Which is GREAT NEWS.

If we have another child, I will be well up for sharing some of my maternity leave with Mr P. I get that breastfeeding means that for most mums, it makes sense for them to be the one who is at home with their baby. But I stopped breastfeeding when my daughter was six months old and so after that, it didn’t matter who was looking after her – me or her dad. I think sharing some of the leave would have helped my PND and actually, it’s just fairer. As a couple, we do things in a pretty equal way, so why should caring for a young baby be any different?

What do you think? Do you imagine more people will request flexible working now? And will you be pleased to see parental leave come into force next year?

• This is a commissioned post




  1. July 24, 2014 / 10:16 pm

    Having worked in corporate HR for over 12 years I’d love to say this new legislation will start to shift the needle, but, I don’t think it will. I really want it too, but the reality is that employers will still fear the continuity issues, dislike the hidden costs and think that employees who request it aren’t committed to their jobs or to the company. It will take a huge generational shift and a new mental alignment, to change the perspective that a having work life balance does not equal being a slacker or being a mum. It doesn’t matter that employees that have their requests accepted have greater loyalty, work hard and generally are more efficient (less time to hang around the coffee machine). Until the boards of companies and their top tier management start working flexibly it will always raise an eyebrow.

    • Alison Perry
      July 24, 2014 / 10:19 pm

      That’s such a massive shame, don’t you think? It seems so counter productive – especially when more people than ever (not just parents) value their down time and recognise how important balance is. Surely balanced, happy, hard working employees are the best kind?

      • July 25, 2014 / 3:43 pm

        I completely agree that it is a crying shame. I started working flexibly way before I had my son – I worked a 4 day week. My employer allowed this arrangement and I was very diligent and worked my socks off. But others viewed it with scepticism and thought I wasn’t committed – I even had this as feedback! This unfortunately I think is the “norm”. I truly hope it will change and that all people can decide how they work best and how to gain a balance in life.

  2. July 24, 2014 / 10:38 pm

    All of it is great in theory. I just wonder how long it will take employers to get the structures in place to ensure it’s a possibilty for the majority. It’s not just the law, there is an archaic attitude to work from so many employers and bosses. The rule that says you have to be in an office at set hours is nonsense, when some people could be way more productive if they flex those hours or do some of their work from home. I think we have a long way to go before this is a reality. But it’s fantastic that the right noises and laws are being made to make it feasible.

    • Alison Perry
      July 24, 2014 / 10:40 pm

      Yes I think it’s going to take a long time for things to change. But we are moving in the right direction and that pleases me.

  3. July 25, 2014 / 8:32 am

    Men are wonderful at looking after children. While us mums often joke about daddy daycare, unfairly, my husband gives my son a confidence and playfulness that my parenting might not.

    Is it instilled in us that it is only women who can multi task? Who will remember wellies on a wet day, jackets when it’s cold, who can juggle pick ups with a demanding job and remember vaccinations and new shoes and changing bedding on the side?

    I’m a working part-time lawyer and look after my 1 year old one day a week, but that suits me just fine. He gets his social fun from childcare, his nurturing from me, and one morning with daddy to go swimming a week. I’m not sure having my husband spend more time with him while I do more at work would help MY life any more but that’s because I have a good work life balance as it is.

    I agree others working part time would help with the stigma of leaving at 5 – having to arrange meetings around that can be mortifying at times…

    • Alison Perry
      July 25, 2014 / 11:14 am

      You’re so right. My husband is fantastic at looking after our daughter and I think the notion that men are useless at childcare is very out-dated. The previous generation of dads – generally speaking – did very little in the way of childcare. I don’t think my dad ever changed a nappy! But nowadays, it’s more balanced and there are definite benefits of dads looking after kids. Thanks for commenting Sasha!

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