- Survey of over 10,000 employees finds 56% of men with children or other family responsibilities want to be more involved in caring
- 85% of men think they should be as involved as women in caring for children, yet women are still eight times as likely to take the main caring role
- 66% of men would make use of family-friendly employer policies if they were confident that spending more time on caring would not impact their career prospects
More than half of men who have children or other caring responsibilities want to be more involved in caring, a ground-breaking study commissioned by Business in the Community, in partnership with Santander UK, has found.
The Equal Lives research asked 10,225 UK parents for their views on work and care, and found that traditional gender roles in caring are seen as increasingly outdated, with 85% of men believing that they should be as involved as women in caring for their children.
But while social attitudes have changed, in reality the unequal division of care for children remains stark. According to the research, women are eight times as likely as men to take the lead in caring for children. The gap closes where there is an adult in the family who needs care, with women 1.5 times as likely to take the lead as men, but it is clear that women continue to shoulder the bulk of family care.
The study identified a variety of perceived cultural barriers in the workplace holding men back from greater involvement at home. Fathers reported that visibility of their parental role among managers and colleagues was low in comparison to motherhood, with respondents reporting they felt under pressure to appear unrestricted by caring responsibilities at work or risk losing out on opportunities for career progression.
Sixty six per cent of men said they would make use of family-friendly policies offered by their employers such as flexible working and Shared Parental Leave, if they were confident that spending more time on caring would not impact their career prospects.
Financial barriers were also found to play an important role. Despite men wanting to be more involved in caring, participants in the survey reported defaulting to traditional gender roles for financial reasons. Nearly half of men aged under 35 (48%) said they did not take Shared Parental Leave because they couldn’t afford to reduce their earnings. According to national statistics women remain more likely to have the lower paid job, and maternity leave continues to be financially supported to a greater extent than Shared Parental Leave.
Chloe Chambraud, gender equality director, Business in the Community, said: “Women’s careers are still most affected by taking on the burden of care for dependent children and adults. But men are now telling us they want to be more involved at home and employers need to catch up. We will never achieve equality in the workplace and the gender pay gap will never close if employers don’t support equality at home.
“With the number of dependent adults and the proportion of men wanting to be more involved in caring going up, businesses that don’t do more to support them risk losing talent.”
Nathan Bostock, chief executive, Santander UK, said: “Social attitudes to family and caring have changed substantially in recent years but it’s clear that many feel that their workplace hasn’t kept pace. No one should feel forced to choose between being a great parent or carer and having a great career. Businesses that want to attract and retain the best talent need to look carefully at how they can support all their employees to balance work and family life in a way that works for them and the business alike.
“Employers need to get it right because everyone stands to benefit - employees will have more fulfilled lives outside of work and businesses will have employees who are more engaged, loyal and productive. As a starting point, it’s vital that we encourage more open conversations about balancing work and care, ensuring role models are visible and line-managers are equipped to provide the right support.”
Jo Swinson MP, deputy leader of the Liberal Democrats and former employment relations minister, said: “This research shows that the appalling discrimination faced by mothers in the workplace is bad for men too. Fathers want to have more time with their children, but fear of career penalties discourages them from making more use of flexible working and shared parental leave.
“We can all take action to tackle this. Working dads, especially those in leadership roles, can be open and proud about how they balance professional and family responsibilities. Employers can ensure they have modern, flexible policies to support parents and carers in the workplace. And the government needs both to lead a continued change in culture, and back this up by increasing statutory pay for parental leave, and closing the current gap from nine months to two years in free early years provision.”
The Equal Lives report makes a series of recommendations for employers. These include:
- Encourage flexible working options to both men and women in all job roles, at all levels, wherever possible;
- Consider offering enhanced Shared Parental Leave and paid leave for carers;
- Address employees’ perception that caring may harm their career prospects by:
- Sharing success stories of parents and carers who are working flexibly and/or taking up family-friendly policies; and
- Providing line managers with training and advice on how to better support employees who need to balance work and family responsibilities.
The Equal Lives report will lead to a set of resources for business to facilitate open conversations between line managers and employees with caring responsibilities about their caring needs and possible support.