Fears & pressures of balancing work and parenthood – female and male perspectives

 

Rebecca Gregory, Head of Communications, Business in the Community Workplace.

 

That one in five women planning to have children hide this fact from their employers doesn’t surprise me. Nor does it surprise me that new fathers feel they can’t be open about their childcare responsibilities – it’s not just mothers who find this particular work/life balance a challenge. In fact, I would have expected the statistics to be higher – so that’s a (slight) positive…

Anecdotally, fears and pressures of balancing work and expected and actual parenthood are ones I’ve heard time and time again from within my own personal network. Here are a few snippets:

Employers need to adapt their processes and cultures otherwise they will end up with a highly stressed, burnt out workforce that isn’t fit for the present - let alone the future.

The female perspective:
1. Whilst pregnant, a friend was told by her boss that he was doing her ‘a favour’ by not giving her certain tasks. The implication that she was less capable whilst pregnant and should be obliged for this leniency was more frustrating to her than the reality that she was doing just as much work, just as many long hours in an, at-times, physically demanding role as she was before. All without any expectation of ‘leniency’. Did she share her plans to have a child? No, of course not. She was well aware this would likely impact her access to interesting projects and the responsibility she’s worked hard for.

2. A friend who was made redundant before her wedding was given the following job interview advice from people of all ages*:

  • Job interviews before the wedding – remove your engagement ring they’ll assume you’re going to get pregnant and not hire you. My view was, that if the employer thinks that way you probably don’t want to work for them…so leave the engagement ring on.
  • Job interviews after the wedding – remove all rings. My view on this one was that the interviewer can’t know how long ago the wedding was or if you’ve already had children so just keep them on – otherwise you have some explaining to do when you start!

The male perspective:
3. Several fathers have privately confessed to me that the clash of long working hours, a highly pressured job and a long commute versus their desire to spend more time with their child, guilt of not being able to do so, guilt of not being able to support the mother as much as they’d like (not to mention new levels of tiredness a baby in the house seems to bring) is hugely stressful. Would they explain this to work or request more flexible working hours? Of course not. Would they take Shared Parental Leave if they had that time again? Unlikely. They’d want to, but feel that it’s a career blocker.  

4. Another male friend who nearly every time he was packing up to leave had a male boss who would request a highly urgent task for EOP that day, tomorrow morning would be a disappointment. The friend stays to do complete the work (not just missing bath-time, bed time but missing his baby full-stop…). The next day, the boss doesn’t get around to the work he’s done until late afternoon and then requests urgent changes…and so the cycle repeats. The friend actually raised this as an issue and requesting more flexible working, with the result of no change and told not to expect bonus or pay rise.

These conversations never fail to remind me of why I work where I do, and why our gender equality campaign needs to exist. Not everyone works at an organisation that is open to flexible working. Not every employer recognises that the ‘norms’ of work are being redefined and that they are the ones that need to evolve. There are more equal numbers of men and women are in employment, all of us will need to work for longer, and employers need to adapt their processes and cultures otherwise they will end up with a highly stressed, burnt out workforce that isn’t fit for the present - let alone the future. If they change now, they can benefit from a productive, engaged, diverse and innovative workforce.

Sadly, we are still waiting for some employers to work this one out.
 

*Assumptions on all sides that women only ever have children when married