The debate around equal opportunities in the workplace often leads to the assumption that this is an issue exclusive to women. The reality is that men suffer from inequality just as women do.
There is no denying that Scotland’s workforce has a gender-based problem. It is well documented that we have a pay gap which impacts on women at all stages of their working lives and is not limited to women who choose to start a family or to take time out of their careers. Women remain underrepresented in the higher paying, higher status jobs and industries.
Meanwhile, there is a growing trend of fathers seeking a better balance between work and family.
Worryingly, the Modern Families Index 2017 showed that 44 per cent of fathers lied or bent the truth to their employers about family life conflicting with work due to the pressures of appearing unrestricted by family responsibilities.
Business in the Community (BITC) is currently undertaking the Equal Lives campaign, in partnership with Santander UK, to highlight the key barriers preventing men from caring more and the enablers which may support them. By addressing this root cause of inequality – the imbalance of care between men and women – employers can allow both men and women to fulfil their potential, both at home and at work.
BITC recognises that we need to move beyond the unsustainable model of one partner at home doing the housework and one partner at work doing, in some cases, up to 70 hours per week. This model is increasingly outdated and now more than ever is proving not to work. Men and women need real choices which means equal opportunities to realise their potential both at home and at work.
BITC research shows that many working women have both a desire to lead and have confidence in their ability to lead a team, so let’s acknowledge this and support these ambitions. In many relationships, aptitude and preference are of a balanced life with shared parenting and domestic responsibilities – but this shouldn’t come at the cost of career progression.
Equality of opportunity does not mean that every family must be the same, any more than feminism requires all women to act, think and behave in the same way. Through BITC’s network of members and our groundbreaking work across the responsible business agenda, we encourage employers to tackle inequality wherever it exists. We believe that everyone, regardless of age, disability, social background and sexual orientation should be able to thrive in the workplace.
We need to redress the balance of power between men and women at work and push for more equality at home by encouraging employers to better support men with their family responsibilities. Fundamentally, we need to transform workplace culture so that everyone has the same opportunities to succeed at work and at home.
Employers risk losing out on their best talent – male and female – if they do not adapt. We know there is a strong desire from millennials for better work-life balance, yet cultural norms about caring responsibilities and the ‘ideal’, unencumbered worker continue to persist. BITC already encourages our members and all employers to take steps such as offering agile working arrangements to both men and women equally, promote shared parental leave and support carers in the workplace.
The purpose of the Equal Lives campaign is to hear from employed men and women with caring responsibilities about their experience of these initiatives. The results of the survey will tell us whether employees currently feel supported by their employer and help us to develop best practice for businesses.
Share your experiences at https://gender.bitc.org.uk/issues/equal-lives-survey-now-open
Alan Thornburrow is Director of Business in the Community Scotland