Bored with hearing about 'Working Mums'
A view from Emily James

Bored with hearing about 'Working Mums'

Why it is time to shift the debate away from 'Working Mums' and bridge the 'Gender Parenting Gap'.

I hope that 2018 will be celebrated as a breakthrough year in the campaign for female equality and the ongoing fight to close the UK's gender pay gap. With companies with over 250 employees required to publish data by 5th April, I believe we will see something of a revolution starting.  And, I for one, am all for it.

While the predicted furore will hopefully prompt some rapid adjustments in pay, getting true gender equality across all sectors and levels is going be a long and difficult journey.  The reasons for the historical imbalance are complex, involving a wide range of social, economic and cultural factors.  And concealed within these is another anomaly that I believe is every bit as important as the gender pay gap, yet it is not making the headlines at all - namely the ‘gender parenting gap’. 

The gender parenting Gap

According to the 2016 Fairness in Families Index (FIFI), for every hour that a mother spends with her children, a father currently spends 24 minutes.  The UK ranks 12th out of the 22 countries measured and its performance is worsening. The negative implications for both child and father are well documented, but it is also worth considering how the ‘gender parenting gap’ might be contributing to the gender pay gap.  After all, how can women achieve equality in the workplace if there isn’t equality at home?

Some would argue that closing the pay gap will, over time, produce the desired equality at home.  If two parents have similar earning potential they are more likely to share the parental responsibilities and associated work compromises.  But I believe a wider cultural issue underpins this inequality and that we, as a creative and progressive industry, should be leading the way in tackling it.

Changing the language and shifting the landscape

Firstly, we should change the language around the issue. Parenting should be talked about in gender neutral terms.  We frequently discuss how we can evolve the industry to be more attractive to ‘working mums’, but we are not giving the same consideration to how ‘working dads’ might be able to take more responsibility at home.  Our language contains an inbuilt assumption that women are the primary care providers at home which, consequently, puts those same women at a disadvantage in the workplace. 

Secondly, we should actively promote equal parenting among both female and male employees.  This includes ensuring all employees are aware of their rights around shared parental leave and that they feel the company supports them in exercising those rights.  When one of our male business directors took three months of parental leave to care for his son, we celebrated it.  We are also now considering proactive consultations for all new parents, female and male, to discuss flexible working requirements.

Thirdly, we should publicise our collective successes in the expectation that, one day, the workplace will have as many men as women working flexibly for reasons of childcare. If our industry can lead the charge, over time, the whole country will benefit.  Today’s battle for young talent lies in offering careers that balance creative stimulation with a more positive work-life balance.  As Millennials become parents they are questioning established roles, with 53% of new fathers wanting to move to a less stressful job and 48% willing to take a pay cut for more time at home (Modern Families Index, 2017).  The positive promotion of an equal parenting policy is a lever we can and should pull.

I look forward to seeing positive change for women over the coming years.  I hope the revolution gathering pace now will create a better future for our daughters, both in and out of the workplace.  But I would love to see something of a revolution alongside it for men to be given the opportunity, encouragement and support to close the parenting gender gap too.  When it comes to spending time with your kids, every minute matters.

Emily James is chief strategy officer at Y&R