Takeaways from ‘The Big Conversation’ Fringe Event

At last week’s ‘The Big Conversation about Families, Parents and the Workplace’ breakfast fringe event which took place as part of the CIPD Annual Conference, we had some really great conversations (funny that!). The conversation focused on the themes identified in our launch event back in September.  Gem Dale has already reported on the discussions around the topic of ‘Flexible Flexible Working for All’.   Here are some of the things we discussed around the other three themes.

In the groups exploring ‘Creating the culture we need’ and ‘Changing attitudes & challenging stigma’, we identified the following elements of the ideal situation: an open trusting workplace; comfortable and open communication; and enabling and supporting flexible working.

The barriers we identified to achieving this included:



Managers lacking trust in their teams;

Legislation vs culture;

The barrier of management skills; and

Needing to deserve flexibility.


Here are our ideas to drive change:

Universal flexibility;

Changing mindsets to be positive about flexible working;

Supporting colleagues with who need flexibility;

Sharing success stories;

See flexibility as a retention tool;

Being able to request flexibility at interview.


It is interesting how much of these conversations focused in on making ‘flexibility for all’ acceptable as a key change that would trigger substantial change in the workplace for the whole area of enabling people to integrate family and work-life

The fourth theme we explored was ‘Supporting Line Managers to Manage Effectively’.  This theme has been chosen in the launch event, out a recognition of the key role that line managers have in making the workplace a positive experience for anyone with childcare or other caring responsibilities eg for partner, parents or other dependents.  Of course, effective line managers are key to the workplace being a positive experience full stop.  Here’s what we came up with –

Ideal situation:

Line managers that show trust towards their team members;

Line managers that are empowered to make decisions and take action;

Policies that empower and are flexible rather than are rigid; and

Managers that can free up HR time to focus on ‘bigger stuff’.


We identified the following barriers:

Do the individuals who are managers want to manage people?;

Do our people managers have the skills & knowledge to be confident people managers?;

Is there a consistent approach to managing people?

Lack of trust – what are my team members up to – particularly if out of sight?; and

Lack of confidence & inexperience.


We identified the following things as working well:

The importance of getting to know your people – eg appraise managers like Timpsons;

Empower managers;

Make use of performance support tools to aid managers in the moment;

See process as an enabler, not a blocker.


Here are the things we identified we could do to drive change:

Consider splitting roles between people management and technical management;

Be clear in the recruitment process on the expectations;

Upskill managers;

Have open & honest conversations;

Provide opportunities for managers to share experiences and learn from each other.

So, there are two key areas that have come out of ‘The Big Conversation’ overall, the opportunities provided by flexibility for all and the need for confident, effective line managers to make it a reality.

It is very heartening to know that CIPD is planning to run a campaign around the value of flexible working in 2018, as it is quite clear from our conversations how important an issue this is.   We look forward to hearing more about the campaign and how each one of us can get involved in making a difference to the making flexible flexible working for all a reality in all our workplaces!

Changing the lens

This morning we held our second event for the Big Conversation on Families, Parents and the Workplace. One of our conversations was all about flexible working – the challenge, the barriers and the potential solutions.

We addressed four questions:

  • What is our ideal situation?
  • What gets in the way of progress now?
  • What works well today?
  • What can we do to drive real change?

Here is the output from that conversation.

Our ideal situation is one where no one feels afraid to ask for flexible working. Where flexible working doesn’t impact your ability to get promoted.  Where flexible working isn’t put into boxes (part time, term time and so on) but solutions are tailored to the individual and the unique circumstances and contexts.  Where there is no stigma to working flexibly.  And finally, organisations getting their head around the fact that this is how people want to work today.

We were agreed on what gets in the way. Outdated stereotypes and assumptions.  Presenteeism; the assumption that if someone is at their desk they are working.  A failure to advertise jobs as flexible.  Rigid policies. A lack of trust.  The 26 week right to request waiting period.  Starting from a position of no rather than looking at how to get to a yes.  A lack of role models, especially at a senior level.  Negative perceptions of managers, casting a shadow across the organisations.

Some have stuff that is working well today.  Some organisations that have successfully challenged traditional long hours culture by embracing flexibility – and finding it key to attracting and retaining talent.  Others are providing the relevant technology to work anywhere and any when.  Some are training managers on making flexible working work at their place.

But there is more we need to do.

We need to move flexible working out of the family friendly rights discourse and see it instead as being an issue of inclusion and talent. A truly inclusive organisation will embrace all forms of working.  For all our talk about employee engagement, wars for talent and so on, many organisations fail to see that flexibility could be key drivers in attraction, retention and engagement. Failing to offer flexible working is absolutely limiting your talent pool.

It is time to change the lens.

There were other practical ideas. Sharing what is working well internally.  Finding the role models and telling their story.  Activity encouraging paternity leave – and offering better than statutory pay rates in order to do just that.  Educating line managers, not only on the benefits of flexibility, but also how to manage teams that work flexibly and remotely.  One attendee talked about making a song and dance about your family commitments – not just quietly disappearing to the parents evening or nativity play like it is something to apologise for.

There was one final point that stood out for me during the conversation that has made me think, and continues to do so. This was the extent to which those working flexibly, especially those who work from home, find themselves subject to allegedly light-hearted jokes or negative comments (it’s just banter….).  I once worked in an organisation where the common way to refer to a day working from home was ‘I’m watching Jeremy Kyle’.  There was even a joke about employee’s watching Homes Under the Hammer at a session I attended at the conference.  I also know, mostly men, who have been subject to a snide comment about leaving early or arriving late because they have done the school run.  Comments of the type that I don’t believe are made to women with the same regularity.  Why? Because it is more socially acceptable for the woman to be doing that stuff.  It  might seem like a small thing perhaps, but language matters.  Jokes matter.  And what we feel we can joke about, tells its own story.

We talked a lot in the session about the role of HR in challenging negative stereotypes. The role of HR in crafting the right policies, guidance and training, but also coaching managers in thinking differently.  It is the role of HR to challenge when we need to.  Challenge those who default ‘no’ to this stuff. Challenge those who say no because they are fearful, inflexible, or just don’t know how to manage any differently.  Challenge lazy thinking.

Perhaps too, we should be challenging the jokes and the language at the same time.


Gemma Dale

On the Hashtag

We are now over half-way through CIPD Manchester’s ‘Big Conversation about Families, Parents and the Workplace’ and lots of people have been tweeting using the #CIPDbigconvo hashtag and sharing articles. So, I decided to do a review of what has been shared.

The common theme to most of the articles shared has been flexible working.   This was one of the original topics that we set out to consider within ‘The Big Conversation’ and was also the subject of Gem Dale’s talk at the launch of ‘The Big Conversation’, so perhaps this isn’t surprising.  It was considered such an important focus, that ‘Flexible flexible working policies for all’ emerged from the launch as one of the four themes for further exploration.

Why do we need flexible working? People Management reported on research carried out by Willis Towers Watson that a third of parents feel stressed out by the challenges of combining work and their parent responsibilities.  The same piece reported on recent figures showing that 73.7% of mothers in the UK are now in employment.   But it is not only parents that can benefit from flexible working, but carers of other families members and as Simon Heath argues in his piece ‘Calling time on the inflexible’  anybody wanting to spend time doing ‘community projects; volunteering; hobbies; art; literature; sport and exercise; science and nature’ – so that is pretty much all of us!  When flexible working was discussed as part of #HRHour during ‘The Big Conversation’ participants also raised the importance of flexible working to enabling individuals to manage their own well-being.

Simon Heath also refers to the issues of increasing traffic congestion and stagnating productivity growth.  One of the shared articles focuses on the potential gains from one form of flexibility ‘working from home’ and reports on a trial conducted by Professor Nicholas Bloom into home working which identified benefits of 13.5% increase in productivity and that employees were half as likely to leave as office based staff.

In ‘The Part-time Executive Pipeline’ Stephanie Dillon argued the case for a much greater variety of roles being able to be undertaken part-time.   We need part-time work and those who work flexibly in other ways to be recognised as not having a part time commitment.

This isn’t the only way that many  workplaces of 2017 seem to have not moved on from previous generations approach to work –  a point made both by Simon Heath and also by Melinda Gates in her article ‘We’re sending our daughters into a workplace designed for our Dads’.

HR Magazine, reporting on a new benchmarking report by Working Families, identified a number of barriers to the wider introduction of flexible working including: HR proving the business case, lack of senior buy-in, lack of role modelling from the top and line management skill barriers.  This last point is something that we will be discussing further as part of the fourth theme for more detailed discussion as part of ‘The Big Conversation’.

Meanwhile Timewise UK has launched the ‘Timewise Power 50’ to celebrate both individuals and employers role modelling excellence in flexible working.  There are a number of categories, including senior leaders working part-time and nominations close on 3 November 2017.  Is there an individual or organisation you could nominate?

There is also still time to contribute to a ‘Call for Evidence’ from the UK Government on ‘Returning to work after time for caring’.  This is looking for input from carers both of children and other family member and employers and the deadline is 23 October 2017 – so just a few days to have your say!

Many thanks to all those who have shared articles via #CIPDbigconvo – keep them coming!

Rachel Burnham

CIPD Manchester Public Policy Lead


Lessons in leadership and fatherhood from a cabby

Lessons in leadership and fatherhood from a cabby

Two years ago, at 10:30pm I was on my way back from City airport after a big client meeting in Zurich. My cabby was John. He’s a proper East Ender, late 40’s. He would have made pro for West Ham until if an injury hadn’t ruined it. We talked about our kids and what it means to be a dad (something of a preoccupation with me). His kids were 21 and 12, boy and girl respectively. Mine are 5 and 8, both boys.

The weekend before was his son’s 21st. He told me about a moment early in the evening when he was sitting with his dad. His son came up, gave him a hug and kiss, told him he loved him then bounded off to the bar.

John turned to his dad and said “Do you remember what you said to me when I was 8?”

Without a pause, the old man said “Yes, you went to hug me and I said ‘no son, men don’t hug, we shake hands’. Biggest mistake of my life.”

John’s dad wasn’t doing what he thought was right, he was doing what he thought was expected of him. What he thought it meant to be a man, because men don’t show affection, men are strong. Men don’t hug. Following an ideal he thought was important cost him and his son a price no one should have to pay. But many do because the ‘traditional’ dad stereotype is very strong.

At home, the trap John’s dad fell into is starting to be sidestepped by many dads. A government survey found that over half of men (57%) thought that being more involved in the baby’s life would be a good thing for their whole family. Of course this doesn’t mean that they do it, but if what I see on the streets every day is anything to go by, dads are stepping up.

But in the workplace, it’s a different story. Far from avoiding the trap, men are falling into it in droves. According to Working Families, Only 4% of eligible couples took Shared Parental Leave in the first quarter of 2016. 39% of fathers felt resentful towards their employer about their work-life balance, and 47% want to downshift into a less stressful job to get a better balance.

As part of my fatherhood side project, Being Dads, I’ve been running workshops for new dads in City firms. Without fail, 25% of a room of 12- 15 dads are thinking about leaving the City because work just doesn’t work for them as a dad. When I ask the dads why the sentiment falls heavily towards the expectations men believe they have to live up to. Just like John’s dad.

So where do the expectations come from? The mainstay of my work is helping organisations to work better. Over many years of this work, I’ve learnt that expectations of behaviour come from the people at the top. And many of those people are men, playing the odds, many of those men will be dads.

What we do is a far more powerful message than what we say. While many firms talk about being supportive of parents, how many actively live by these words, and what can you do about it?

If the people at the top are ‘leaders’ who believe that, because they had to sacrifice their family at the altar of their career, so does everyone else, I suggest you get out, quickly.

If the people at the top are leaders who recognise the world has changed and want things to be different, then there’s hope. But the stats hint that these good intentions aren’t delivering change. If this is the case, then these enlightened old men at the top need to know that their intentions aren’t working, and they’ll need help changing. An opportunity.

Then, of course, there’s what us dads can do about it. Dads of newborns, pre-schoolers, juniors, secondary schoolers and kids who have flown the nest. We’re the men who have the chance to be real leaders because real leadership is about working for what you believe in, especially when it’s hard. We’ve got to back each other on this one, support men who are trying to make work work for the firm and the family, and do it ourselves.

In case you’re worried about how wise this is, a bit of business case can help calm the nerves. A big chunk of working dads are unhappy and many are thinking of leaving. Throw the tech-fuelled talent drain, and the still challenging situation returning mums face, and you’ve got storms of triplet proportions. And having seen friends with twins, I can’t even imagine what it’s like to deal with triplets. Analysts Oxford Economics put the cost of hiring and getting a new recruit up to speed at up to £30k per employee. Put that into your firms context and the numbers should be enough to make any senior exec sit up and take notice.

Thankfully we live in a world where this is not an impossible situation. With the tech at our fingertips, it’s possible to work from anywhere. Yet as one dad I spoke to said “You can change the tech, and they have, I’m always on, but I’m still judged on what I’m seen to be doing, rather than what I actually deliver. Changing the culture is a different matter entirely.” If there was ever a cause to stand up and be counted for, having a great career and being the best dad you can be won’t be far off number 1. It’s on us dads.


David Willans


Helping organisations better through purpose and values at Will&Progress.

Exploring what it means to be a great dad at Being Dads.

My skills got me hired, my womb got me fired. #cipdbigconvo

This Halloween, Pregnant Then Screwed’s ‘March of the Mummies’ is infecting a city near you in order to demand recognition, respect and change for working mums. Haunting London, Cardiff, Belfast, Manchester, Newcastle and Glasgow with an eerie presence in the form of hundreds of hard-working parents, the campaign aims to end pregnancy and maternity discrimination and enhance the economic empowerment of women.

In the UK, the number of women who lose their jobs when, or shortly after, getting pregnant has almost doubled in the last 10 years. 54,000 women, are pushed out of their jobs each year (EHRC, 2016). Why? You ask. The simple answer is, for daring to procreate. These stale, stubborn and archaic- minded employers are keen to dump experienced and committed women despite our economy being dependant on getting women back to work post-baby. Women are quite literally being punished for raising the next generation workforce – those that will be running our country in years to come.

It comes as no surprise that 56% of working part time mums feel that they have had to settle for a lower skilled job as they are unable to work full time anymore, with 44% of them doing so because quality childcare is also unaffordable (Resolution Foundation, 2012). For most mothers, it is a case of having to work as well as wanting to, yet childcare is currently only subsidised from 3 years, despite support being needed when the maternity period comes to an end. This is why the time for change is now. Until equal importance is placed on caring and working, with legislation and policy reflecting this, our economy will continue to suffer as will families across the country. Our demand for companies to report on how many flexible working requests are made and granted will hold businesses accountable, ensuring that women are able to continue to thrive in the workplace in a way that meets the needs of both company and family. Flexible working has not only been proven to increase productivity and motivation but it is vital in keeping women in the workplace with both career and motherhood firmly under their belt.

But let’s get one thing straight – this isn’t just a ‘mummy’ issue. It’s a people issue. Part of a wider discussion that includes and questions the role of men in society also. For what feels like an eternity now, men have been ready and willing to be part and parcel of their children’s lives in the exact same capacity to a mother, yet until legislation changes to feasibly allow this to be possible, how can we equip both men and women to work and care in equal measures? Shared Parental Leave is a start, however given that men are usually paid more than their women counterparts, it is impractical and most of the time impossible for men to take the majority or even equal amount of parental leave. Fathers are guaranteed two weeks off when their baby arrives, but in reality two weeks at Statutory Pay is appalling in comparison to what mothers are entitled to. This is why we are demanding for fathers to be able to access 6 weeks non-transferable paternity leave paid at 90% of their salary, so that it is equal and equivalent to maternal pay.

March of The Mummies is asking for five immediate changes to legislation to end pregnancy and maternity discrimination, as well as provide access to justice where such discrimination occurs. These demands are:

1) Increase the time limit to raise a tribunal claim from 3 months to (at least) 6 months for pregnant and postpartum women.

2) Require companies to report on how many flexible working requests are made and how many are granted.

3) Give fathers access to 6 weeks non-transferable paternity leave paid at 90% of salary.

4) Give the self employed access to statutory shared parental pay.

5) Subsidise childcare from 6 months old, rather than 3 years old.

Join us at 12noon on the 31st October, dressed as mummies (the walking dead kind) to reflect that our policies are of a bygone era. With celebrity speakers and MP’s marching alongside us in all cities, the voices of women and men in their thousands will be heard.

March of the Mummies will take place in London, Glasgow, Manchester, Belfast, Newcastle and Cardiff. For more information visit: www.marchofthemummies.com

Kristina Collins

Pregnant Then Screwed

Follow us on Instagram: @pregnant_then_screwed

Or Twitter: @pregnantscrewed

The tightrope generation – caring without a safety net.

Thank you to Kirsty Woodard from Ageing without children (www.awoc.org) for today’s blog contribution. 

Much is made of the “sandwich generation” people, usually women, caring for both their parents and their children at the same time, however the reality is that childless people are up to a third more likely to be carers for their elderly parents ([1]) than their siblings with children. It’s easy to dismiss their concerns by saying “well with no children to worry about as well, caring is going to be much easier” but we would argue that being what we call a tightrope carer i.e. a carer who has no family safety net below them is just as difficult in its own way and brings different but equal problems to sandwich caring.

“I had to give up work and take my (much reduced) pension early, as the juggling of caring for my mother and my job became too much. Fortunately my mother had enough income to pay me a little cash each month, otherwise I wouldn’t have managed at all. Because I had no children/family there was the assumption that my caring role could take all my time”

The UK in line with most of the western world has seen a doubling in the number of people without children rising from 1 in 9 people born in the 1940s to 1in 5 of those born in the 1960s.

What’s it like to care for an elderly parent knowing that there is no one to do the same for you?

“I cared for my mum from 1999 when she was diagnosed with breast cancer until 2007 when she died. I was so scared about losing her. It was a very difficult journey for many reasons. Towards the end especially, trying to cope and not understanding how to access services. For me though, the overriding feeling was fear … fear of losing an anchor in my life. I have always thought that without a ‘downward’ family to anchor to, when parents pass away, it it sooooo much more difficult to deal with. I believe when you have children, your security and safely, reason for living and general purpose is known. Without a ‘downward’ family nor a ‘sideways’ family (I have no siblings), I felt completely and utterly alone. It was a very traumatic time for me … a long scary 8 years which has taken me a long time to recover from”

The impact of being a carer is considerable. There’s nothing like being confronted with the bewildering maze of confusion surrounding the NHS and social care to truly bring home how much help people need to fight their way through it. Person after person contacting AWOC tells a similar story; it wasn’t until they started to be a carer for their own parents that they truly understood how hard it is to navigate the system and get help. Like all carers, they talk of endless phone calls, long repetitive forms, countless meetings with different people who seemed to come and go out of their parents life with no real understanding of what was going on, hours in cars and on the phone visiting, reassuring, helping, arranging. And always a small voice in the back of their mind saying “who will be doing this for me?”

Many people discussing this on our facebook group pointed out that family friendly policies in their work place often really meant child friendly with little consideration given to those who had to take time off to care for parents or indeed spouses as compared to those who had to take time off for their children

“ Seeing ones family ageing and ill is hard with no balance of young folk around it can give a very narrow and dispiriting view of life. Gave up working in NHS for more flexible employer but eventually gave that up to care. Fearful for own future as to get good care you need someone to assist and look out for you. In common with many those who give up work to care we aren’t able to contribute to our own pensions”

Carers often have to give up full time work to take on their caring role; in many cases not because they want too but because inflexible work conditions make balancing both impossible. Companies can do more to support carers by having a carers policy, ensuring family friendly means than child friendly, offer training to managers about supporting carers and have more flexible working practices. More and more of us will become carers in the future and the best businesses will recognise and plan for that.



[1] Childlessness and Upward Intergenerational Support: Cross-National Evidence from Eleven European Countries Luca Maria Pesando

Dads and Shared Parental Leave: How employers can up their game.

Today’s contribution to the blog comes from Jamie Atkinson, Senior Law Lecturer at Manchester Metropolitan University. 

Shared Parental Leave (SPL) was introduced by the government in April 2015. It enables eligible parents to take up to 50 weeks leave in the first year of their child’s life (37 weeks of which can be paid). Parents can take continuous or discontinuous blocks of leave and can take some leave together or independently. A key policy aim was to encourage fathers (widely defined) to take a longer period of leave to care for their child, provided that their spouse or partner had either returned to work or given notice to return.

To date, there has been a very poor take up rate of SPL, with parents still preferring to take either maternity or paternity leave. (Paternity leave entitles eligible dads to take one or two weeks leave within eight weeks of the birth or placement of a child for adoption.) One recent study estimated that only 1% of parents eligible for SPL last year had taken it[1]. Clearly there are aspects of the policy itself which need to be improved, including the fact that there is not a period of leave specifically reserved for fathers on a ‘use it or lose it’ basis, which has been successful in increasing take up by dads in countries like Sweden.

But in this blog, I want to focus on things that employers can do to encourage employees with caring responsibilities, particularly dads, to take SPL and to access flexible working policies generally. This is not to ignore the fact that some studies have shown that dads’ personal circumstances and attitudes towards their caring role are more important than organisational factors[2]. But many dads will only take SPL if they feel that their request will not damage their career in some way. Many companies are yet to be persuaded of the business benefits of allowing all employees (rather than just mothers) to work flexibly and/or to take a block of time away from work to look after young children. Many studies have shown that employees who feel that they have an effective balance between work and family life are more productive, committed and loyal and less likely to be absent. This has clear benefits to businesses including retention of experienced staff, keeping a diverse workforce and a reduction in hiring and re-training costs[3]. Other studies have shown that employees who work shorter hours feel that they work more efficiently.

Other employers have written policies in place to support parents but they are not being taken up. In order to encourage employees to make use of them, the right messages need to come from executive and senior management level, together with more effective communication of policies to employees. This will hopefully begin to influence the behaviour and attitude of employees and line managers. Another change which would increase uptake is to challenge the perception that utilising these policies is something which isn’t normally done by fathers (or men generally). Societal expectations of fathers are changing, and many fathers want to become more actively involved with looking after their children. Companies need to recognise this. Studies by Suzan Lewis have argued that the presence of work-life balance policies has not necessarily challenged deep-rooted assumptions that employees’ commitment or productivity is measured by their willingness to ‘put the work in’ i.e. to work long hours when necessary[4]. Many employers need to move to a situation where productivity is more objectively measured.

This is not to say that all dads who request SPL or flexible work have a hard time. My own work in this area has shown that there are employers which support dads taking SPL. Some employers are taking the lead and support their employees by paying them above the statutory level of pay whilst on leave. Following some pilot research, I have produced an action plan for employers who want to increase their support for dads who want to take SPL and for employees who are parents with young kids more generally[5]. We know that millennials want to have a better balance between life and work[6]. Technology continues to make huge changes to working life. Employers are going to have to change or risk losing employees with caring responsibilities.





[1] www2.cipd.co.uk/pm/peoplemanagement/b/weblog/archive/2017/09/18/fewer-than-9-000-new-parents-took-shared-parental-leave-last-year.aspx

[2] Haas, Allard & Hwang (2002), The impact of organizational culture on men’s use of parental leave in Sweden, Community, Work & Family 5(3), 319-342

[3] McDonald, Brown & Bradley (2005), Explanations for the provision‐utilisation gap in work‐life policy, Women in Management Review 20(1), 37-55

[4] Lewis, (1997), ‘Family Friendly’ Employment Policies: A Route to Changing Organizational Culture or Playing About at the Margins? Gender, Work and Organization 4(1), 13-23

[5] http://www.business.mmu.ac.uk/cpp/research-projects.php

[6] http://www.telegraph.co.uk/women/work/problem-millennials-workplace/

The Big Conversation Hackathon

If you are interested in ‘The Big Conversation about Families, Parents and the Workplace’ hosted by CIPD Manchester, you might want to know more about the approach that we are taking.

The Big Conversation launches officially on 27th September in Manchester.  During the event we will hear from three speakers.  Gemma Dale, co-found of The Work Consultancy, will be talking about how to make flexible working work.  Roz Hampson, an Advice Worker with Maternity Action will be speaking about pregnancy discrimination.  Susan Raftery, from Acas will be speaking about carers.

We will be joined on the evening by HR professionals, researchers from a number of universities and campaigners. And we will be tweeting from the event using #CIPDbigconvo – so if you can’t join us in person, join us online.

During the event we will be taking a Hackathon style approach. The aim will be to decide what are the most important conversations we need to have about families, parents and work? Where are our opportunities to challenge, influence and create change?  These will become our themes for the rest of this initiative.

And then….. we go virtual. We want as many voices in the conversation as possible.  Each week throughout October we will be focusing on one of these conversations.  There will be blogs, Twitter chats, dialogue and the sharing of good practice.

Run through the CIPD Manchester LinkedIn Group these four themes will help us answer some big questions. What needs to be better?  What needs to change today and in the future?  How can practitioners support change in their own organisation? What are the barriers to change?  How will we know when we have succeeded?

We conclude with a fringe event at the annual CIPD conference at Manchester on Thursday 9th November 8-9.15am  where we will share out outputs – and all the ideas that come forward during this big conversation.

So if you have something to contribute join the LinkedIn group and get sharing. Read our blog (include link) – why not write a piece for it? Get involved with a Twitter chat through the hashtag #CIPDbigconvo.  Come along to the fringe event.

Let’s make change for the better. #CIPDbigconvo

Men: ‘Do some f****** work’

If anyone had asked me (they never did) what was the most important quality of being a parent (note: I am not saying ‘good’ parent) then I would have said, and would still say, ‘time’. Like most of us, I certainly had lots of anxieties about being a parent. But I reasoned that if I set aside enough time to the task then, as Philip Larkin might have said, I could at least mess it up properly.

Many people won’t agree with me and others will point out that not everyone has the luxury of choosing the hours they work. For my wife and I, the equation was as follows: we wanted to be with our children longer than they were with someone else. So we both worked four days a week (4 days for us, 3 days for the child-minder).

We both work in the public sector and both our employers were very accommodating. But two recent pieces of research from Acas on flexible working have got me thinking back to those days (my children are now grow-up (ish)).

A couple of moments stand out: a male colleague with young children told me how lucky I was to have a three-day weekend and to have so much quality time with my children. I said that I was sure he could request a similar arrangement. He didn’t and not many men did then or do now. Why? It may partly be to do with gender stereotyping. We know how slow the take-up has been of shared parental leave. And the Acas report from the Institute of Employment Studies on how women can ‘maintain career development’ once they return to work from maternity leave, shows that flexible working is (for some workplaces and to some extent) a problem designed to solve a problem.

In too many workplaces, flexible working is seen as something for women – they do the bulk of the childcare and take on other caring responsibilities. Research tells us that men are keen to spend more time with their children but they don’t get the same sales pitch as women do. I remember one manager who used to follow me down the corridor at five o’clock (the time I had to leave to pick up my daughter form nursery): as if astonished I could be so strictly keeping to my contractual hours.

There is a very gifted fiction writer I have discovered called Owen Booth (remember the name). He has published a series of pieces (a mixture of fiction and memoir) on the theme of ‘what we are teaching our sons about …’ (before you ask about the daughters, he has two sons). He covers diverse subject areas, including ‘what we are teaching our sons about whales and geology’, about ‘the loneliness of billionaires’ and about the ‘particular smell of hospitals at three in the morning’.

If he were to focus his attention on flexible working and gender stereotyping (and, if he was feeling especially brave, the gender pay gap) I wonder what he would muse about?

Are we teaching future generations that for men work is always more important than childcare? That ‘face time’ is a key determinant of career progression? That flexible working is a solution to a problem and that no one wants to be associated with problems?

There is a lot of very welcome campaigning going on at the moment about promoting the benefits of flexible working. For example, Digital Mums have the catchy hashtag #cleanupthefword and the slogan ‘do some f****** work’.

The Acas research paints a more nuanced picture – yes flexible working can be good but it only works with the right workplace culture and, ideally, with men getting involved as much as women.

I cherish the time I had with my kids, but maybe it was a pretty straightforward decision for me. I don’t really care what the system thinks of my choices but perhaps others have to care and feel less freedom to make the same choices that I did.


Adrian Wakeling

Senior Policy Advisor at Acas (www.acas.org.uk)

Twitter: @AdrianWakeling

Email: awakeling@acas.org.uk

Parents shouldn’t be made to choose. #CIPDbigconvo

Thank you to Dr Ernestine Ndzi, Lecturer and Tutor at Hertfordshire University, School of Law, Criminology and Political Science for today’s contribution to the Big Conversation.

While the mother, father, friends and family rejoice at the news that a child is on the way, the employer seem to be doing the opposite. While people celebrate the arrival of the birth of a new baby, the employer looks at the effect of the absence of the mum and/or dad in the workplace and the effect on its business. While the mum and dad of the child rejoice for the fact that a child is priceless, the employer is busy considering how much money they would loss in trying to arrange a maternity/paternity/shared parental leave cover.

Discrimination in the workplace because a woman is expecting a child or is on maternity leave has been a contentious issue in employment law for a long time. Women have been made an easy target for redundancy because of their child bearing responsibilities. Women have seen their work hours reduced and some have seen their job roles changed for the simple fact that they have/had taken maternity leave to have and nurture their newborn. Women have always been seen as an easy target for discrimination because of the long standing culture that men are breadwinners of the family while women have the childbearing and childcare responsibility role.

However, with the recent introduction of shared parental leave, it has become apparent that discrimination is not all about the women taking time off to have children but it also affects men who are willing to take time off to be part of their newborn’s life. The introduction of the regulation of shared parental leave was aimed at giving the mothers the opportunity to go back to work early if they so choose, and for the dads to have more time to spend with their newborn. It was the hope of the policy-makers that the legislation would help achieve some equality at home and in the workplace. Surveys conducted by organisations such as Working Families, My Family Care, CIPD, etc. have all highlighted the low uptake of shared parental leave amongst men. Talking to dads on the subject, the notion of dads being discriminated against seem to come across strongly. Dads are worried about the effect that taking time off would have on their career as well. A dad said this to me:

‘When I spoke to my employer about taking shared parental leave, he made two comments that got me worried. He asked me why I wanted to take shared parental leave and said such leave is meant for women and not men. He also said I may not be considered for the position that I applied for, if I would not be present for the first weeks of taking up the position…I then realised the impact taking shared parental leave would have on my career and my wife and I decided not to take shared parental leave.’ A 36 year old working dad

The employers have also started looking at fathers and fathers to be as potential threat to their businesses. They consider it an additional burden that they would also have to make business adjustments to cover for the absence of dads who would be taking more than the traditional two paternity leave to be with their newborn.

The effect of discriminating against dads in the workplace because of their ability to take longer leave, would deter men from taking advantage of the shared parental leave. The equality that the shared parental leave regulation aimed for might never be achieved.

Discrimination at work simply mean making working parents to choose between their careers and having children. Parents are therefore seen to be pushed to choose who should bear the burden of the discrimination at work. The person to bear the burden could be the mother if she decides to take her full maternity leave, or it could be the dad, if he decide to take more than the traditional two week paternity leave. It is really unfortunate that particularly for women, their child bearing age is the same as their career active age. This puts the pressure on women to either choose to be career women or parents which shouldn’t be. Parents have the rights to enjoy both worlds of having children and having a career and should not be made to choose by an employer.

I am delighted that CIPD Manchester is launching The Big Conversation to enable issues such as these to be discussed.