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Business And Careers Parenting

Is the Media Driving a Divisive Culture? Where does Equality fit in all this?

Once upon a time, many years ago, I used to be a journalist. We’re going back to when I was in my mid-twenties. While the basics of a job in the media have remained broadly similar, the news industry has changed massively since then and not all of it for the better. In fact, I feel very sorry for journalists, especially those working for major news networks because they seem to get blamed for everything bad going on in the world and it’s simply not justified.

The Responsibility of the Media

One of the big issues that comes up from time to time is the responsibility the press has to promote equality. I’m prepared to say something controversial here: The media has no responsibility to promote equality.

The media has a role to play in questioning inequality and reporting on equality issues. To give an example, there is a duty on news outlets to report on the number of white men who attended exclusive, independent schools who are in Boris Johnson’s cabinet.

If media personalities cross that line and actively promote equality they’ve gone beyond reporting on the news. That would be campaigning, not reporting. It’s the journalist’s role to inform the news consumer, not influence them.

So what drives the media and what they can publish? Let’s just be frank and concede it’s primarily cash. News organisations are businesses and a newspaper article about a premiership footballer’s threesome will shift more copies than an article about gender equality. That’s a sad fact and a reflection of one of the more negative aspects of human nature.

The Impact of Social Media

It’s impossible to write about this subject without mentioning social media. Social media has had a negative impact on news reporting. Journalists are forever being shouted down on social media by people who don’t like the way they report on the news.

If you really want to go down the rabbit hole, go take a look at the things said online about BBC reporter Marianna Spring, who specialises in reporting about online conspiracies. Some of the comments made about her are truly vile and just how negative the social media bubble can be.

Representations of Mums and Dads in the Media

Let me take one particular equality issue that means a lot to me: The way mums and dads are represented in the media. This sometimes causes me concern. I think we’ve come a long way since I launched my blog a decade ago, but there’s still some way to go.

Going back a decade, it really wasn’t rare for parenting magazines to feature one token image of a dad. He would be white and clearly in a heterosexual relationship. By contrast, if a major news outlet reports on a parenting issue in 2021 and doesn’t include a male voice, it will be publicly called out for doing so (one of the benefits of social media is being able to connect with major news organisations and highlight when they have fallen short).

In fact, I once remember having a chat with someone about work life balance. He remarked that if the flagship BBC Breakfast show ever reported on work/life balance, it would only ever invite mums to discuss the issue while sat on the bright red sofa of its studios at Media City in Salford.

Rather amusingly, a short while later I found myself appearing on that bright red sofa myself. The issue I was discussing with Naga Munchetty? Work/life balance!

Of course, it’s not simply mum v dad representation. I see a lot more representation of same sex parents in the media than I used to. It says a great deal that Olympic swimmer Tom Daley was chosen to be an ambassador for Pampers back in 2018. Not only was he a dad, but a dad in a same sex relationship!

My real frustration is that dads are all too often represented in the media looking after babies or toddlers. There’s very little representation of dads dealing with schooling, their children’s physical and mental health and so on.

Look on any library bookshelf at the parenting titles and you’ll see what I mean. The books for dads are overwhelmingly a) Writing in a tongue in cheek style and b) they don’t exist for any dad whose children are over the age of 5. Seriously, it’s like dads disappear once their kids hit primary school age.

As for mums, well mums can’t win. They’re either letting their families down by being working mothers. Or they’re letting the sisterhood down by not having a job. As I say, we’ve come a long way, but there’s more to do.

Driving a Divisive Culture?

Moving on from equality, is the media divisive? As I said at the start, the media should report on the news and represent society. It should not cross a line and start telling consumers what to think.

There is no question, the media has become more divisive. We saw this throughout the Brexit campaign and this has continued during the COVID pandemic. We all know that certain newspapers and broadcast journalists are pro-facemask while others are not.

Are these titles encouraging division or simply reflecting what’s going on in society? In reality, I think various media outlets fan the flames of the “Culture Wars” as they can be called.

What does this mean for reporting on equality issues? It’s hard to say. At this point in time the media seems as happy ever to report on equality issues. Aside from anything else, the pandemic has forced every family with working parents to think about its approach to equality. And that’s hard for the media to ignore.

It’ll be interesting to see what happens post-pandemic. If the media looses interest in equality, then we’ll all need to worry.

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Business And Careers Flexible Working Parenting Shared Parental Leave

Nestlé: Taking Action To The Needs Of Working Parents

When thinking about companies that go out of their way to promote family-friendly working practices, you probably think of Diageo, Aviva, Zurich or maybe Volvo. All have been supremely successful in promoting their parental leave policies and, in most cases, equalising them. In a further sign that big business is getting the message about work / life balance, Nestlé has also updated its parental support policy. I’ve been given the opportunity to learn all about it.

The food and beverage giant has taken significant steps to improve equalise it’s approach to parental leave, parental pay and, crucially, welcoming people back to work after a spell of leave. It’s not uncommon for companies to make big claims about their parental leave, only for dads to end up as second class citizens. Here are the main actions Nestlé takes to ensure mums and dads are treated fairly.

Stripped gender out of the language

The company has taken a gender-neutral approach to its policy. There is no longer maternity or paternity leave but primary and secondary carer leave.

The primary caregiver is the parent who will spend most of their time with the child. The primary caregiver is entitled to 52 weeks leave, 18 of which are paid by Nestlé. The secondary caregiver is entitled to 12 weeks leave, four of them paid.

In a bid to break down gender barriers, Nestlé encourage men to think long and hard about whether they wish to be the primary or secondary caregiver. This is to ensure they don’t simply default to being the ‘secondary’ caregiver. For this may not be in the family’s best interests.

The leave also applies to adoptive parents. It’s important to stress that using such language, Nestlé is recognising the existence of same sex couples. For same sex couples, the leave applies in exactly the same way as it is to heterosexual couples.

Keeping in touch days

Nestlé has put a lot of importance on helping mums and dads transition back into the workplace. Primary caregivers have 10 Keeping In Touch days. This ensures they are not excluded from developments and are kept in the loop.

Introduction of the Parent Talk network

The Parent Talk network, for me, is the highlight of what Nestlé is doing. It’s a superb development for dads who often struggle to find parental support and assistance. This is a network of staff, that enables mothers and fathers to discuss all things parent related.

Nestlé also offer new dads (and mums!) the opportunity to have a Parent Pal through their mentoring programme. A Parent Pal is a mentor who supports and mentors a new parent as they make the transition to becoming a working parent. It complements the Keeping in Touch days as it’s a further way to keep up to date with what is going on at work.

Male participation in the Parent Talk network has apparently been very strong. If such a thing had existed when I worked in Corporate land I am sure I would have made the most of it.

Nestlé contact parents on their return and remind them about the Parent Pal mentoring and the Parent Talk network. This is to make sure they are fully aware of the support and mentoring available.

Flexible working

I will quickly mention the flexible working policy. They are independent of the main parental policies and is still being finalised. Nonetheless, Nestlé is open to job shares and other forms of flexible working, something that parents and caregivers often require.

An end-to-end journey for parental support at Nestlé

Those are the main points of the parental policy. The idea was to have an end-to-end journey that kicks in when a parent is expecting a child. It continues during any parental leave they take. Then serves to help them back into the workforce when leave has ended and via the ParentPal network, help them as their parenting adventure progresses.

It’s clear that Nestlé has created a parental support policy that is inclusive of traditional and non-traditional families. It’s good to see the secondary carer leave paid in full for a month. Money is a major barrier to men taking anything more than the bare minimum leave entitlement.

I also see huge value in the Parent Talk network. It not only helps parents overcome social isolation, but provides support and mentorship. It’s a great initiative that I can see appealing to mums and dads.

Nestlé is clearly taking steps to appeal to employees with families. If you were thinking of moving jobs but need to balance work and family life or think you will in the near future, you should see what roles Nestlé has to offer.

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Business And Careers Careers Advice Parenting

Are universities too powerful in the modern world?

University degrees are overrated. There, its out there and I am not taking it back! I have major concerns about the stranglehold universities have over both our children’s education and their future recruitment.

I first began to question the value of degrees a few years ago. When I was on the interview panel seeking, to recruit an individual for an entry level media relations role. Numerous graduates had applied for the job and every applicant’s CV followed the same pattern. Degree followed by 12-18 months work in either unpaid or short-term internships, often lasting around three months.

Discrimination against people both with and without University Degrees

This experience made me question what was going on in the world of recruitment. It seemed to me that there were so many graduates looking for work that employers could be hyper-selective. To the point that young adults who had left university tens of thousands of pounds in debt could find themselves working unpaid before securing their first entry level role.

Were they in a better position than someone who left school and went straight into work after school? At least the 18 year old school leaver would be earning a proper salary by their early twenties.

I heard of another horror story that demonstrates the negative impact mass university education has had on recruitment. Someone I know with 18 years’ experience working in IT management interviewed for a new job. One of the interviewers asked why his degree wasn’t on his CV. My friend explained he didn’t have a degree, at which point the atmosphere changed. He never heard from the interview panel again. I can’t say for certain what the problem was on this occasion, but I’ll take a guess.

Encouraging young people to finish school and go to uni has been going on for the past 25 years. Government policy was to get at least 50% of youngsters into higher education. This was only dropped in the past few months. The result is that we now have 25 years’ worth of graduates in the workforce. Many of them in managerial positions and recruiting staff. These managers naturally want to recruit their own kind and so graduates have the edge. We’re now in the ridiculous position where many administrative roles require you to have a degree.

For Universities, with great Power comes great Profit.

Universities are doing nothing to stop this. They’re making a fortune in tuition fees. It’s not in their financial interest to make degrees difficult or be fussy about who they let through the doors.

As if to prove the point, I recently bumped into an academic I know while at the supermarket. It was a typical lockdown thing, we hadn’t seen each other in several months and so spent the best part of half an hour, facemasks covering our faces, putting the world to rights while stood next to shelves of dried pasta (one metre apart, obviously).

During our chat, he admitted to me that some of the degrees his students study were bumped up to the Masters degree. The degree had been simplified so it could include modules on skills such as giving presentations, the kind of thing a corporate trainer teaches you in a day.

Students are leaving university around £60,000 in debt. What are they getting for that debt? If this is a typical example my friend gave, it suggests that many students are getting sub-standard degrees. They will spend a year or two in insecure, poorly paid work before getting an entry level job. I am not against universities or degrees, but I find myself seriously questioning the wisdom of mass, degree-level education.

Alternatives to University

Universities definitely have their place in the higher education system. What’s happened, however, is that alternatives are thin on the ground. I am just old enough to remember polytechnics. They were much derided, but with hindsight I think it’s fair to say they had an incredibly valuable place in our education system providing technical, vocational qualifications.

I’d also question whether teachers and career advisers do enough to encourage youngsters to consider apprenticeships or Higher National Diplomas. Modern apprenticeships, especially higher apprenticeships, look like a superb way to gain a degree and work experience without building up any of the debilitating debt (someone I know involved in recruitment tells me his organisation recruits apprentices and also has a graduate fast track scheme. He says the apprentices are often brilliant whereas many of the graduates arrive “with an attitude problem.”)

The Education Secretary Gavin Williamson has publicly said he thinks there is a “snobbishness” around vocational qualifications and that he wants this to change. I think he is absolutely correct and I am delighted to see the Government introducing T-Levels and is pushing to increase the profile of apprenticeships. For any dads wishing to give their kids some career advice vocational qualifications are something to consider.

The recruitment industry, however, has a role to play. If an employer or a manager says a role should only be open to graduates, recruitment agencies and HR professionals should ask why. Employers and managers need to challenge their own bias about non-graduates.

Mass, degree education may have seemed like a good idea when it was introduced. A quarter of a century later, I think we need to ask if the power unwittingly given to universities is doing more harm than good.

If you want to read more about this topic why not have a read of why the apprenticeship route is a smart alternative choice to university.

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Business And Careers Careers Advice Parenting

Dads: Careers advice for your children

As your children get older, your role as a father changes. While my eldest daughter is only 12, I have found myself having to give careers advice. And have to talk to her about the educational choices required to achieve her career choices.

Giving careers advice to youngsters presents certain challenges because the world of employment moves rapidly. When I was young, internships didn’t exist. Neither did modern apprenticeships and if you didn’t go to university, people would cross the road to avoid you (okay, slight exaggeration but university was the expected route for most people).

So what careers advice should a father give to their child in 2021? How can you make sure you are not giving advice suitable for the 1990s? I’ve spoken to a recruitment expert and leadership expert (both dads, fittingly), a higher education expert and a Government Minister to find out.

Don’t expect to have everything figured out from day one

As a teen, I felt under immense pressure to decide what I was going to do with my life. Much of the pressure came from my family who wanted to know I had a firm career path. But transformative coach Matthew Fox says this is a mistake.

“Don’t feel that you have to have worked out how life is going to be from day one. There are many chapters that will unfold which you can’t predict or control. Enjoy each of them as they lead to the next one.”

Fox, who works with senior leaders and business owning dads, added that you “shouldn’t compare yourself to others” and that you should “be ready to jump at opportunities when they arise.”

I found these comments very interesting. I was expecting something about choosing your A-levels. Fox, however, seems to be suggesting flexibility and a positive mental attitude will take you far (you can check out Fox’s leadership and fatherhood podcast here).

Consider vocational qualifications

The Government has made no secret of its desire to make more vocational qualifications available and to increase their appeal. One of the newest qualifications is the T-Level which was launched last year.

Rather like A-Levels, T-Levels are available to study immediately after GCSEs. You study them for two years and they are a mix of classroom learning and on the job experience. A T-Level is the equivalent to three A-Levels.

Speaking exclusively to DaddyJobs.co.uk, Minister for Apprenticeships and Skills Gillian Keegan said:

“With course content designed by over 250 leading employers and a nine-week industry placement included, T Levels offer young people a unique opportunity to gain the knowledge and skills businesses need so they can get a head start on their future career.”

As a new qualification, T-Levels are only available in a few industries right now. But they’re going to expand massively between now and 2023. Keegan explained:

“Those interested in designing buildings or managing construction sites should take a look at the T-Levels in Construction, young people keen to explore a career working with children should think about the Education and Childcare course and anyone thinking of becoming a programmer or a software engineer should consider our Digital T Levels.”

T-Levels look like a superb option to academic study and the planned subject areas (see here) are very impressive. These are definitely a qualification to watch, especially if you have a younger teen as more options will be available to them in the next few years. Encouraging children to look into this route could be a good piece of careers advice.

Career paths can be “wiggly”. So your careers advice may need to be “wiggly” too.

Josie Whiteley is a former lecturer, freelance education consultant and vice-chair of the National Education Union Leadership Council. (In other words, she’s a big deal in the world of higher education).

As you might expect, Whiteley is an advocate of higher education. Stressing that youngsters should make choices based on their interests:

“When making choices whether for GCSEs or jobs choose subjects/specialisms/areas that interest you, not what your parents or teachers say you ought to study.”

While big on education, Whiteley says practical skills are important: “Dads should ensure their kids know how to budget to survive college, the real world or a job.”

Whiteley also said dads should encourage their offspring to research career choices. As they may be working in their chosen field for years, maybe decades. Even so, she said young people should not panic if something doesn’t work out: “If you make a wrong subject or career choice you can always change. Your road map to reach your ideal job might just look a bit more wiggly than a straight route from A to B.”

It’s about YOU

“I’ve interviewed thousands of people over the years and I can categorically tell you, not one person has been offered a role where they didn’t fit the company.” says recruitment specialist and dad Phil Palmer, AKA The Corporate Dad.

Palmer has not only worked in recruitment for 12 years, but is trying to help his 18-year-old daughter navigate “the important choices in her life”. He believes that “education is just one of the tools that you will need. A lot can come down to ‘you’.”

He adds that having a degree can be important for certain roles. He states:

“I wouldn’t want an unqualified doctor working on my appendix”. But stresses he’s known graduates starting in admin roles and senior C-suite executives without degrees.

Palmer says social skills are vital, especially in an interview scenario. Answering with yes / no answers won’t get you far.

“What do you like? Can you hold a conversation and talk about interesting and relevant facts? Do you actively listen?”

I thought this advice followed on nicely from Fox’s. Employers want to know that you are the right person for the role and that you have the skills to do the job well. Again, it’s not simply about qualifications as it can come down to your ability to hold a conversation and communicate.

In summary; a good piece of careers advice is that character is important

Providing your children with careers advice is never going to be easy. Speaking to these experts, however, shows that an individual’s character is vitally important. This will dictate their attitude to decision making and study. It’ll also dictate whether they fit in an organisation and have skills such as communication and listening skills. Qualifications definitely have their place, but youngsters shouldn’t feel railroaded down the academic route. If there’s one thing I have taken away from this exercise, it’s that career paths are not always straight. Youngsters should not feel pressured to have their life mapped out at a young age. They may not know what they want to do at first and mistakes can be undone. It’s up to us parents to support the decisions our children make. And accept the fact we may not necessarily agree with them.

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Flexible Working Parenting Shared Parental Leave

Supporting Men in the Workplace upon Return to Work

As Governments of the United Kingdom cautiously signal a slow easing of lockdown restrictions, employees are going to trickle back into the workplace. They may not return five days a week, but return they will. This begs the question: What steps are employers taking to welcome back men into the workplace?


That may sound like a sexist question, but it isn’t. Allow me to explain why:


Many employers are used to welcoming female staff back to work after a prolonged period of maternity leave. Employers often have Keeping In Touch days and other initiatives for women, but not men. Added to this, in most households it is mum who balances work while doing most of the childcare. The past year has been very different. Fathers have been around to help with getting the kids ready in the morning, with remote learning and been much more involved with family life.


This has resulted in a big shift in mentality for lots of men. Far from being sexist, what we’ll hopefully see is men taking on more of the childcare and domestic burden at home. Thereby freeing women up to concentrate on work and their careers. The question is, are employers ready for this monumental change in working culture?


Men’s domestic roles have changed


I asked Ian Dinwiddy for his opinion. Ian operates Inspiring Dads, a coaching service for men in the workplace who struggle balancing work and family life. I asked how he thought employers should prepare for welcoming dads back to the workplace:


“For many people, the return to the workplace will be fraught with tension, potential ongoing concerns about personal safety, and the ‘simple’ emotional challenges of change.


“To support men, it is vital to take the time for an individual assessment of needs, both from a mental health perspective and work life ‘balance’ perspective. Many men will have fundamentally changed their domestic role, especially dads caring for children, and altered their expectations of the trade-offs they are prepared to accept.”


As you can see, Ian confirmed what I’d been thinking: Many men will have reassessed their role in the home. Ian also issued the following warning:


“Any failure to recognise and carefully support men are likely to store up well-being, performance, and talent retention issues for businesses everywhere.”


What the employer organisations say


With Ian’s words ringing in my ears, I approached the Federation of Small Businesses (FSB). I asked what advice it was giving employers about welcoming back men into the workplace. I was directed to this article on the FSB website.


Credit where it’s due, the article addresses Ian’s concern that employees might be concerned about the risks posed by returning to the workplace. It also mentioned childcare and the possibility of furloughing staff for longer if necessary so they can deal with children. That said, the FSB didn’t offer any specific advice for supporting dads (or mums) when they return to work.

My next stop was the Confederation of British Industry (CBI). The CBI had a dedicated Coronavirus Hub on its website with some great resources. There were ideas and case studies to help employers support staff mental health and support staff working from home. There was mention of the stresses faced by “working parents” but nothing about easing working dads back into the workplace.


Having looked at a couple of employer organisations, I approached an employer directly. Zurich is a company with a reputation for being a very forward-thinking organisation with a good approach to gender equality. I made enquiries about how it was preparing for staff to return and if it had identified any issues where men in the workplace might need some additional support.

The insurer hasn’t yet firmed up its plans. It is still “considering how to welcome staff back to the workplace” so it’s unclear at this stage what support will be available.

How to support men returning to the workplace

All things considered, I felt more than a little underwhelmed with how UK employers are preparing to welcome men back into the workplace.
With no one else providing tips for helping male employees back in to the office, I’ve put together a few suggestions:

  1. Be mindful of the fact men are less likely to acknowledge and admit they are having difficulties re-adjusting to office life. Have regular catch-ups. Ask how they are doing and make sure they are familiar with any workplace counselling services or mental health support that is on offer.
  2. Why not introduce Keeping In Touch days for all employees before they return to the office? There is no reason why these can’t run virtually.
  3. Look at the diversity training undertaken by your management team. Do they undertake training to better understand the stresses and strains faced by mums AND dads? A lot of diversity training ignores dads. This is a big oversight. The reality is that many employers are more flexible in their approach to working mothers. After a year of working from home, much of it spent in the company of their children, dads will expect equal treatment. Managers need to be aware of this.
  4. Are you ready and prepared for a surge in requests from male employees who want to formalise flexible working arrangements? They’ve spent a year balancing work with childcare responsibilities and been productive. And employers need to give all such requests serious consideration thinking long and hard before turning them down.
  5. Keep in mind that employees may have other caring responsibilities. They may be looking after an ill or disabled family member or spouse.

Being Aware that Change has taken place

To wrap up, let me make clear that women should receive the same levels of support. But employers need to be aware of how a year of working from home will have impacted and changed the expectations of fathers.

Things have changed a lot for men and employers need to accept this and take appropriate action. If they don’t, men will talk to employers who offer greater understanding and flexibility.

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Flexible Working Parenting

The Pressures Felt By Working Dads

The subject of my first blog post of 2021 is very timely. I had planned to write something about the pressures felt by working dads. As COVID-19 yet again closes schools and the workforce is ordered to work from home, those pressures will be plain for all to see in households across the country.

The reason I wanted to write this post is that I regularly see working parents in the media discussing the pressures they feel. Nines times out of then those parents are mums. Tens times out of ten, the discussion focuses on the pressures faced by parents with very young children. If there’s one community that is consistently overlooked, it’s dads like myself. Dads with children in the middle years of childhood.

What pressures do working dads face?

With that point made, what pressures do dads face? Ultimately, the pressures felt by working dads come from two sources: Their employer and their family. I shall first look at the pressures employers often unwittingly place on male staff. 

Unconscious bias is a huge problem. Managers frequently pressure men to put work before family. Why? Well, they’re men and childcare is women’s work innit? I know of one woman, a well known academic as it happens, whose husband was once asked “Why the **** can’t your missus do it?” When he made clear to his boss that he had to undertake a routine childcare task. 

I’ll give a further example. The University of Birmingham and University of Kent recently did a research project into working practices during the pandemic. It found that managers contacted male employees working at home twice as much as female ones. Their seemed to be an understanding that women might be busy with kids. Whereas men would be 100% available to their employer at all times.   

Attitudes like this fail to appreciate that most households are dual income. They also fail to appreciate that men have responsibilities away from the workplace. Striking a good work / life balance is made all the tougher when your employer doesn’t want to acknowledge your life away from work.

Pressures from the family

When a man becomes a dad or a child is born, he will often take some shared parental leave. The arrival of a newborn is an exciting time, but it does also come with some stress. Sleep and feeding patterns have to be established. If a couple already have children, their needs must be attended to also. 

In my experience, employers are generally quite good at acknowledging these stresses. That won’t be every man’s experience, but it is mine. 

As kids get older, dads can have real issues because they are pressured not to get involved with their children so they can focus on work. If you have school-aged children, just take a moment to think about the last Nativity play you attended or sports day your child participated in. (I know you may have to think back to the pre-COVID era!). 

How many dads were there? I’ll wager there were some, but not nearly as many as mums. 

I know some dads genuinely struggle to get the time off work because of the nature of their employment, but many simply don’t see such events as in their ‘fatherly job description.’ This is partly because employers don’t always make it easy for men to do these things. 

Men also feel pressured by the culture of presenteeism. Hopefully COVID-19 will spell the end of this phenomena, but men’s working hours actually increase when they become dads. It’s long been thought this is because men feel pressured to provide for their families and the one way you can do that is to work, work, work. 

If a child falls ill and gets sent home from school, dads find themselves under pressure. This is something I have personal experience of. I once received an email from my boss asking me to do everything I could to make sure I didn’t have to leave the office to look after my child in future. 

Flexible working is the answer

If I were a working mum reading this post, I may well be saying: “I face all these challenges too.” 

It’s important to recognise that working mums do indeed have to deal with these issues. The big difference? Flexible working is much more acceptable for women. Managers often receive training about the pressures mums face, but not the pressures working dads face. 

Flexible working can do so much to unleash the talent of both female and male workers. The good thing is that change is afoot. Younger men are demanding the right to work flexibly so they can better balance work and family. The stats released by Find Your Flex that I published in last month’s blog post show a surge of men looking for flexible job roles. 

I just hope this is a change we see continuing. Long term it will benefit everyone: Dads, mums, children and also employers. 

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Parenting

How To Build Your Own Daddy Support Community

A Daddy Support Community – It’s More valuable Than You May Think!

A little while ago, I was taking part in a panel discussion about flexible working. I was the only man on the panel. I found myself getting very frustrated with how the discussion was going.

Time and again the female panel members said it was important to have a network of friends to call upon for support. I should make clear that “friends” was code for “mum friends”. One of the panel said she was part of a WhatsApp group that featured 25 friends she called upon for help. Help such as picking kids up from school at the last minute, I simply had to respond. 

The microphone was passed to me. I made it absolutely clear that a dad could only dream of that level of support. I’ll paraphrase, but I said that what dads desperately need is “mum friends”. That mums needed to be more willing to mix with and support dads. Even if I say so myself, my comments caused a bit of a stir and I’m glad they did!

Issues For Dads. . . + What To Do About Them

When it comes to seeking support and help, dads face a few barriers. In this article, I’ll focus on two of the main ones.

First of all, men are often raised to be strong, silent, solitary types. They can feel awkward admitting they need help or someone to talk to. It can seem like weakness.

My advice to any dad is to smash this barrier down. You’ll need help and support and your children will throw unexpected curve balls at you. You can’t and shouldn’t be expected to deal with this on your own. Re-evaluate what you were taught about men and how they should behave when you were growing up. 

You are, after all, simply trying to care for your children. What could possibly be more masculine that that?

Second, informal support networks are often very mum-centric. Nursery groups, Parent Teacher Associations, school WhatsApp groups and Facebook groups can seem very mum-heavy. 

As a stay and work from home dad of many years standing, I’d say it’s imperative on you have a presence in these networks. Mums need to get used to dads being active in these groups. The only way that’ll happen is if dads engage with them and make a positive contribution. It can be lonely and it isn’t always easy, but it would be in your interests to get involved.

What Support Exists For Dads And How To Build Your Own Daddy Support Network?

Okay, so let’s take a look at what support does exist for dads. At the beginning of the parenting journey are National Childbirth Trust groups.

I personally found the support from the NCT limited. However, if you are willing to get together for coffee with the boys from your NCT group, I’d strongly recommend it. I often hear of mums meeting up with NCT mums years after giving birth. Why not dads too?

I’d also suggest getting in touch with your local Sure Start or health centre. In most localities you’ll find some kind of group for fathers. The group in my area was called Saturdads. As the name suggests, it gave dads a chance to mix and mingle with other dads and their kids on Saturday mornings.

Just one observation I’d make about these groups. They usually meet the needs of working dads. Saturdays are often ‘mum time’ in households like mine where dad does most of the childcare. Stay at home dads who look after the kids during the week, are unlikely to want to mingle with dads and other people’s kids at the weekend. 

This brings me nicely on to the subject of where at stay at home dads can look for support. Since the introduction of Shared Parental Leave in 2015, there’s been an increase in fathers undertaking the ‘at home’ role, albeit often for just a few months. Even if these men are only fulfilling the main carer role for a few months, they still need support.

Outside of the trendiest parts of East London, stay at home dad support is incredibly thin on the ground. You’re best heading online where you’ll find communities such as the UK At Home Dads Facebook group. This group, is a great resource and in the pre-COVID days, organising the occasional face-to-face meet up.

TheDadsNet also has a variety of online groups plus local groups run by volunteers across the country. It’s worth having a look to see if there is something in your area.

Daddy Support Community Apps

Over the past year, we have seen the launch of a couple of apps. These give dads a chance to meet like-minded people. These are for stay at home or working dads. DadApp is one such app while DadAF is another (just don’t ask what the F stands for). 

Online, Offline And A Little Dose Of Confidence

If you’re going to build a community you can call upon for dad support, it is likely to be a mix of online and offline communities. I’m afraid there is no escaping that mums do have more access to formal and informal support. But, if you look around, there are opportunities out there. I’d also say there the future looks rosier than it did when I became a dad over a decade ago. More recognition that dads need support exist and more has become available. Even if more is needed. 

You may need a little dose of confidence to meet with dads (…and mums) you’ve not spoken to before. If you can muster that confidence, you’ll find some great networks do exist. Don’t worry, everyone you speak to will have been in exactly the same position as you!

Daddy support is just as important as mum support.

Categories
Flexible Working Parenting

I’m A Dad And I Work Flexibly

Making Changes At Work

I always wanted to be a ‘hands on’ dad. Getting stuck in with feeding, nappy changes, cuddles, development milestones and all of the other things associated with caring for a baby. So, when my daughter was born in 2006, I decided to request a change to my contract to enable me to spend one day per working week with her.

At the time I was working five days per week in a London office in a technology related role; I was not in a position financially to take a reduction in salary, so I went for the ‘compressed hours’ option. By 2007 I was working full time hours across four days rather than five and became a bona fide flexible worker!

Was Changing To Flexible Working A Positive Experience?

On Wednesday’s I would take my daughter (and later my son) to playgroups and the park to feed the ducks while my colleagues toiled away in the office. It was a really positive experience and I have no regrets. However, I did have to endure the occasional jibe about not being available for important meetings and I feel those two years did affect my progression within that team. Once I returned to five-day weeks in 2009, I felt so strongly about this, that I moved to a different department.

The Covid Effect

Fast forward to March 2020, I was still London based, albeit at a different company. I was preparing to start a new job in April 2020. My working pattern was four days in the office and one day ‘working from home’. Which at the time was still considered less productive. Then the COVID-19 enforced lockdown happened, overnight I became a remote worker!

Like most people, the idea of working from home all the time sounded great. I embraced it wholeheartedly – no more crowded trains and expensive sandwiches; however, after a couple of weeks the novelty started to wear off.

Especially when I realised that I was facing the prospect of starting a new job at the height of lockdown in late April 2020!

Starting A New Job During Covid Lockdown

Sure enough, I started my new job and was on boarded remotely without any issues. However, one of my strengths is collaboration and brainstorming. I enjoy conversing with colleagues in both formal and informal settings. None of this was going to be possible for me, at a time when I was trying to establish myself in a new role.

For this reason, my first few months were extremely challenging from a mental health perspective. Especially when home schooling was also factored in.

Tips On How To Thrive As A Remote Worker

However, it is possible to thrive as a remote worker and over time I have managed to adjust successfully. Some tips to enable this included:

  • Developing a routine – including work start and finish times.
  • Taking regular breaks – for comfort and beverages.
  • Doing some exercise – getting outside for at least an hour during the day if possible.
  • Arranging informal catch ups with colleagues during the working day.
  • Discussing any mental health issues with a line manager.

The Future Of Work Beyond Covid

An ideal situation going forward will be a balance of office and home-based work. Local high streets and communities have begun to thrive during the lockdown. I’m hoping that things will change for the better. We’ve proved that it’s not necessary to be in the office all the time to be productive.

A guest blog from Mo Philip.

Disclaimer: This blog represents my personal views and not those of my employer.

Categories
Parenting Shared Parental Leave

Shared Parental Leave

The Benefits And Downsides Of Shared Parental Leave

Are you an expectant dad? If so, you are probably considering whether you should take Shared Parental Leave (SPL). 

Just in case you aren’t familiar with SPL, it’s a way of allowing parents to spend time at home following the birth of a child while also receiving some pay. These days parents get 50 weeks of leave that they can share between them following the arrival of a child (In shorthand, both parents could take six months of leave, or mum could take nine months and dad three months etc.).

Personally, I would encourage any dad to take SPL. It’s an awesome way to get to know your child and develop your fatherhood skills. Here are a few pros and cons to taking SPL that you should keep in mind.

Father And Child Form A Closer Bond

This is probably the most important point to keep in mind. Vast amounts of research has shown that a father who is involved with his child from day one forms a better bond with his child and stays involved, no matter what the future holds. Even if the parents get divorced in later life, a dad who has been hands on from the very start continues to play an important role in his offspring’s life. Taking SPL and spending time with your offspring in those very early days will have huge benefits for your relationship with your child and in turn, make the family happier.

You Are A Trailblazer

SPL has been around for a few years, but it’s still a relatively new concept. To some, the idea of a man looking after young children is revolutionary. Some people have never heard of SPL and take up of the leave among men is still quite low. As a result, dads who take SPL are real trailblazers. It shows you are serious about being an involved dad and you are taking advantage of a right that was denied to previous generations of men. Make the most of it!

Mum Benefits Too

The old paternity leave system simply assumed dad was only needed at home for a fortnight, after which mum could hop, skip and jump around the family home doing everything from breastfeeding to vacuuming the floor (…probably both at the same time). If you’ve ever lived with a woman who has given birth, you will know this is absolute rubbish! Two weeks is the absolute minimum most women need to recover. SPL gives dad the chance to be around for longer and help mum following the physical trauma of giving birth.

Mum’s Career Can Also Benefit

I think this is one of the most overlooked benefits of SPL. If both parents share SPL between them, mum no longer has to assume she’s got to take a year away from work because dad only gets two weeks paternity leave. Each parent could share six months of leave, reducing mum’s absence from the workplace. It also gives dad a greater chance to be active on the domestic front, lessening the childcare and housework burden on his partner.

Statutory Shared Parental Leave Pay Is Low

You probably won’t be surprised to hear that Statutory Shared Parental Pay is not well paid. At the time of writing, the Government will only pay you £151.20 a week, or 90% of your salary (whichever is less). If you take SPL, you will probably need to watch your outgoings for a while. This brings me on to a slight anomaly in the SPL system. . . 

Women Are More Likely To Receive Enhanced Pay From Employers

It’s very common for employers to voluntarily pay new mums and dads a percentage of their salary while they are taking SPL. Only thing is, some employers will pay a dad just two weeks’ pay, whereas a mum may receive some kind of payment from their employer for months (this essentially replicates the old maternity / paternity pay system that existed before 2015). This is a major barrier to some men taking SPL as they can’t afford the drop in income. You need to check if your employer pays enhanced benefits and if so what you might expect to receive.

Final Words On Shared Parental Leave

If you would like to find out more about Shared Parental Leave and Pay, there’s plenty on the .GOV website. Please do also remember that SPL is your right as an employee so do not be shy of asking for it.

I will finish with a quote from Simon Hall, a Director of Corporate Finance at BDO LLP. Simon is a dad I spoke to when writing an article about SPL for my own blog. He had recently taken SPL himself following the arrival of his daughter Jessica. 

He gave me the most amazing quote summing up his experience. I hope you find it inspiring and seriously consider taking SPL yourself: 

“From a personal perspective, SPL meant we could both be around for some really key milestones, like hearing Jessica’s first words, helping her wean onto solid foods, and taking her to meet her extended family for the first time.”

Simon Hall, a Director of Corporate Finance at BDO LLP
Categories
Business And Careers Parenting

Covid Opportunities

Some Positive Takeaways From Tough Times.

Without doubt the biggest part of this year has brought much devastation. The ONS state that “early indicators for August 2020 suggest that the number of employees in the UK on payrolls was down around 695,000 compared with March 2020.” We’ve seen families suffer loss of loved ones, not only from Covid but from mental health issues, cancer and more. But, if we are to recover and come back stronger we MUST learn lessons. We’ve been forced to rethink how we work. This, we believe is the good to come from Covid.

We have been talking to a series of dads on how they have been dealing with the past few months. Here we have Nick Donnelly,  Co Founder and CEO of Work Club HQ

The Plus Side To Dealing With Covid Times

This “COVID PERIOD” has certainly been a blessing. My wife gave birth to our daughter in September 2019. By lockdown, Scarlett was 6-months old and it was the perfect time to really bond with her. Without lockdown and running a business, I may only have only seen Scarlett for a half-hour in the morning and possibly one day on the weekend. With lockdown in place, every hour of every day I was with her, which was awesome.

Though COVID has done more for me than giving me time with my daughter, it has accelerated my business forward at rocket pace. The business my wife and I run is called WorkClub and we enable remote teams and individuals to tap into a network of workspaces, laptop-friendly spaces and meeting rooms that are local, flexible and cost-effective.

This period has forced businesses to rethink how they work, giving them the once in a lifetime opportunity to transform from the inside out. Many businesses are not adopting a hybrid workforce approach, allowing employees to choose where they work best. Our product is perfectly positioned to support teams that are evolving into a hybrid style of working.

Lessons Learned

All this is very exciting, but life changed when I became a Dad. Pre-kid, I was a workaholic, dedicating all my time to my business, travelling and staying fit. But since becoming a Dad, my priorities have shifted as I searched for a more balanced life. No longer do I randomly jump on my motorcycle with a backpack on and go to Heathrow to catch the next available flight. No longer do I spend 2 hours in the gym everyday. I also don’t spend every other minute of the day working. I want to spend more time with Scarlett and my wife Tori. However, whenever my wife and I are together, we naturally discuss WorkClub. 

Thank you to Nick for sharing his experiences. #TheCovidEffect

Read more stories from dads and their experiences of dealing with these Covid times.

A Wider Understanding Of Dads and Flexible Working

Changes To Working Culture During Lockdown