When we were setting up By Day - a flexible working company - we had a choice. To create more options for mums who want to return to work but cannot comfortably commit to the 9 - 6 desk hours, we could create a company and a movement to give them access to exciting project-based work. Or - we could create those options for all parents.
Two years ago when I was having my first child it thrilled me to hear that the new Shared Parental Leave policy had taken effect. Giving Dads the time and space to look after their newborns and wives just made sense in every way - the only question was why it took so long. But looking deeper, what it did not give new fathers was money. Shared Parental Leave has had shockingly poor take-up - around 1% - and not equalising SPL and statutory maternity leave pay could be partly to blame. Financial, cultural and attitudinal reasons could well be the death of this new scheme before it even begins.
So looking into the status quo for fathers when it comes to work, it soon became obvious that not only do they need support to achieve their parental aspirations, but everyone benefits from their ability to dedicate more time to homelife. Parents who want to return to full-time work can be supported by flexible working partners, especially when it comes to working around school run times (which office job ends at 3:10pm?). Stay at home mothers or fathers can flex their professional skills by giving a percentage of their time that they feel is manageable. Enabling fathers to share domestic life is a form of control over our resource that is so desperately needed to achieve equality, balance and wellbeing, particularly in the baby years.
In general, research shows our generation demands more freedoms and flexibility from their employers than the last, yet the baby stigma that affects so many mothers - resulting in 54,000 losing their jobs due to maternity discrimination per year - also has taken shape for men too. Men are confessing that they do not feel comfortable raising working hours or parental responsibilities with their boss, and the statistics of working fathers versus those who talk wistfully of changing jobs to gain more family time speak for themselves.
The Guardian recently published an eye-opening piece on the ‘masculine mystique’, illustrating a part-time paternal penalty in the workplace, which combined with rigid cultural parameters for men creates oppression that works out badly for both genders. The deductions we can make from observing a toxic masculinity in our culture leading to particular high-profile triggered scrutiny in 2017, is that the straight-jackets that held women back for decades are also being crafted and applied to men - harming everyone in the process with the lack of quality time available with our families.
Humans are social animals. We feel rewarded with social contact, interaction, and moments with our loved ones. We also are now complex, cerebral and ambitious, and not allowing us to move freely between these two nourishing aspects of our lives has been the regrettable restriction thus far in society’s attempt to designate roles for us. There is so much to overcome, and thankfully there are many determined movements and organisations like Pregnant then Screwed, Flex Appeal and The Pregnant Pause that focus on achieving equal opportunities without gender and procreation holding back talented professionals. We deliberately took a position on how our specific offering would contribute to the movement that results in true equality. To do this we projected into the future, creating a clear vision in our minds of a world we want to live in. Once we got there, we saw parents of all genders and families of all kinds able to make the decision to support each other based on needs they had as professionals and as parents. Unshackling the Dads unshackles the family. It was clear as daylight when we saw it, and that is what we had to offer up. In November 2017 we launched By Day, and for so many reasons, we hope we never have to look back.