A ‘fatherhood penalty’?: UK inquiry asks whether fathers are being failed in the workplace

24 / 01 / 2017

A report recently published by the work-life charity Working Families and Bright Horizons has found that UK workplaces are failing to support fathers’ wishes to take an active role in raising their children.

The study suggests that workplace culture risks creating a ‘fatherhood penalty’ as fathers consider sidelining their careers to achieve a better work and family life balance. With millennials (16-35 years) particularly affected by these considerations, it is clear that this risk is not going away.

Among other things, the study found that:

  • Nearly 40% of fathers would rather take a pay cut if it allowed them to spend more time with their families, and 53% want to downshift to a less stressful job to improve family life.
  • 7 out of 10 fathers said they would consider their childcare needs before taking a new job or a promotion.
  • Nearly 1 in 5 fathers characterised their employers as unsympathetic about childcare.

With growing numbers of employees, and fathers in particular, dissatisfied by their work-life balance, what things might employers– particularly those operating in stressful or demanding environments – consider to ensure that they retain their best employees, both male and female?

  1. Gender stereotypes – does workplace culture ensure that male employees feel able to work flexibly, or part-time, or to take time off for family without fear of being stigmatised?
  2. Commitment perception – are those who work flexibly or take leave for family deemed less committed to the organisation than those who work full-time?
  3. Pay – are pay considerations forcing employees to keep working when they might prefer to take family leave? Take up among fathers of shared parental leave has been low, estimated at around 2% – 8%. While enhanced maternity pay has become the norm at many workplaces, the same is not true for most fathers on leave. Many feel that the current rate of paternity payments (£139.58 per week) is insufficient to support a family.
  4. Awareness – are fathers-to-be aware of their rights and what policies their workplace offers? Meetings between HR and mothers-to-be are standard and maternity leave is a long-standing right, but how aware are employees of their right to take shared parental leave?