Thursday, September 8, 2016
I’ve cried several times as a vet, physical and emotional stress layered on a lack of sleep have broken the barriers with regularity. However, one occasion has lived with me and continues to plague and distress me. It was after my first son was born. Like many dads I had resolved to “be there” for my children and longed to be a hands on father whom my children could rely on. On this particular night, because of the usual demands of practice and at that point, partnership, I couldn’t make it home for stories, despite my attempted superman impression. I arrived home to find him asleep. Asleep without a “good night”, without a gentle stroke of his hair, without a story from me. I cried tears of resentment that a job could come between me and the most simple, yet important aspect of life. The job still burns vehemently when it comes in front of their and his innocence.
While women still face a glass ceiling to get back and get on in work, many dads face other cultural barriers to being able to work flexibly including working long hours, inflexible organisational culture and expectations that men should be the main breadwinner along with prejudice from workmates and bosses when trying to become more involved as dads.
You may argue that being a vet is unique and that such simple comparisons (to “normal” jobs) are irrelevant however I believe expectations for work life balance are changing, particularly among younger working fathers and that this is a quiet revolution in attitudes which may have long-lasting impact in the workplace. After all, being a vet, despite the protestations of the older generation, is increasingly “just a job”.
The Employment Act 2002 gives parents the right to request a flexible working pattern, which can include part-time work, job sharing, working from home, compressed hours, and various forms of flexitime however, nearly one father in five who requested flexible work patterns in 2012 was denied permission, according to official government statistics, while only one mother in 10 was refused. The figures, from the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills, also showed that men were far less likely to request flexible working: just 17 per cent of fathers applied for such schemes in 2010 and 2011, while 28 per cent of mothers did. Why is this? In my view it is simply there is a belief that flexible working means part time and part time means not committed
This generation of dads feels short-changed by employers and the system, we know having more dads involved in childcare and home life is good for children but this should benefit employers too, making their employees happier and less resentful. Policy and practice needs to change to give more opportunities to fathers.
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