UK Discovers Sexist Work Norms Make It Difficult for Men to Raise Kids
A report compiled by MPs on the UK’s Women and Equalities Committee, per the BBC, has revealed an incredible finding: sexist workplace cultures make it difficult for fathers to share parenting responsibilities. And now that the men are having a tough time, something should be done.
This will sound familiar to a lot of post-maternity leave professionals:
“I came back to a load of photocopying,” says tax specialist Richard Cahill of his return to work at a major international company after the birth of his second child.
“Basically they wanted to make the point that they weren’t happy with me,” he says of his former employers.
Men and women in the UK have, by law, been able to share parental leave since 2015 — proving even the best parental leave policies are only as good as the paper they’re printed on. The report found that men in the UK are doing more childcare than ever (though still roughly half of what women do), but find it difficult to arrange flexible work that will allow them to take on more.
Richard is well qualified and had been a high earner in a full-time job, but his search for flexible work was frustrating.
At interviews, he was too often asked: “But what is your wife doing? Why isn’t your wife picking up the children?”
They found it amazing that a man actually wanted to raise his children, he says.
Anyone who has requested paternity leave in India will find this familiar. But here, it’s a top-down attitude. Two years ago, Women and Child Development Minister Maneka Gandhi went on record comparing paternity leave to a holiday, telling The Indian Express:
“Paternity leave can be considered only if, once the woman goes back to work after her 26 weeks of leave, we find that men are availing their sick leave for a month to take care of the child. Let me see how many men do that. I will be happy to give it but for a man, it will be just a holiday, he won’t do anything.”
It’s true women in India do the majority of childcare and housework, by far, but I’d love to know how the government is tracking fathers’ use of personal sick leave, and what the secret, requisite formula is (number of men + number of personal leave days used for child care) that would finally engender an equal parental leave policy.
And yet, the UK report is a disappointing glimpse of what might happen if and when that day ever arrives. In a sad conclusion that will be familiar to many women everywhere, Richard, the accountant, eventually found the flexibility he needed to care for his family — by taking a new job and a pay cut.
It’s almost like sexism is bad for everyone.