Why supporting all carers benefits men, women and business

Recent research showing how women and men continue to struggle to achieve the right balance between their work and family is reviewed by Chloé Chambraud. She also introduces a project that aims to redress the balance of work and care between men and women.

A recent survey from Investors in People found that a third of employees would prefer to work more flexibly than receive a 3% pay rise. Employees who come home too drained to cook a meal, play with their children or who are prevented from spending enough time with their partner, systematically report lower levels of wellbeing, and are less engaged and productive as a result.

According to PwC, as many as 95% of millennials define work-life balance as a priority; young men and women are no longer prepared to give up everything for work. Their attitudes and aspirations have evolved, but often employers haven’t kept up with the pace of change.

Gone are the days of dads working long hours while mums stay at home to look after the house and kids. In fact, just 22% of couples with dependent children now follow this model, while 64% have two full-time working parents. Many families are simply unable to get by without those two incomes.

Yet the brunt of domestic responsibilities still falls upon women. According to the Office for National Statistics (ONS), UK women carry out 60% more domestic labour than men, with mothers providing 74% of childcare. This severely restricts women’s potential in the workplace.

Women are not going to be equal outside the home until men are equal in it” – Gloria Steinem

In Business in the Community’s Project 28-40 survey, 93% of mothers said it was hard to combine caring responsibilities with a successful career, and 76% of women without children felt nervous about how having a family would affect their career. These fears are not unfounded.

Women with caring responsibilities are more likely to be underemployed, take career breaks, take on part-time or casual work, often in lower-paying jobs – all of which can hold them back from progressing at work, and meaning that both women and employers lose out.

Meanwhile, according to British Social Attitudes research, men increasingly want to be more involved in family life, but a recent parliamentary inquiry revealed that they did not feel supported by their employers to do so. Many men are still penalised when they don’t fit the masculine ideal of the devoted worker unencumbered by family responsibilities.

A survey by Working Families found that younger fathers are most frustrated about work interfering with their family lives. If this resentment continues to build, employers that do not adapt will lose out.

The few fathers who choose – and are privileged enough – to care for their newborns face significant barriers. Despite the introduction of Shared Parental Leave, research suggests that there is still a persistent stigma against men taking long periods of time off. Fathers are also twice as likely as mothers to have their requests for flexible working turned down.

Of course, caring responsibilities don’t just apply to parents. Forty-two per cent of the UK’s 4.27 million working age carers are male, but just 72% of them are in employment. One in five carers give up their jobs to care, but more than half who are not working say they would like to do so.

Supporting all those with caring responsibilities – not just fathers – will enable employers to benefit from a wealth of skills and experience from men and women of all ages. This is particularly important as more people stay in work for longer yet continue to have caring responsibilities – and in some cases may have multiple caring roles (such as looking after grandchildren as well as an elderly parent).

At Business in the Community, we define gender equality as the ability of men and women to shape their own lives and contribute to society. At the moment, both are limited in their potential and the UK is losing out at a time of uncertainty and skills shortage. Now is the time to change this.

Our new Equal Lives project, in partnership with Santander UK, aims to explore and redress the balance of work and care between men and women. Do men want to take on more care-related responsibilities? Are they supported by their employers to do so? And when their partner is more involved at home, are women more likely to progress and be involved in the labour market?

To get answers to those questions, we will launch a large-scale survey aiming to reach over 10,000 men in spring 2018. The findings of this survey will help to highlight existing gaps in policy and practice and showcase successful approaches and initiatives. The research findings, along with best practice recommendations, will be published in September 2018.

We are also currently looking for men from all walks of life and of all ages and ethnicities to take part in focus groups which will help to inform our survey questions. A full list of these focus groups can be found here. We would also ask employers to encourage their employees to take part in a focus group as well as the survey when it launches later this year.

Employers can also help by sharing their best practice in this area in one of our business working groups in February. The best examples will be featured in our final report in September. More information about the business working groups is available via the following links:

The US writer and social activist Gloria Steinem once said, “Women are not going to be equal outside the home until men are equal in it.” The Equal Lives project aims to do just that – benefiting women, men, families, and of course business.

Chloé Chambraud

About Chloé Chambraud

Chloé Chambraud is gender equality director for Business in the Community.
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