New project designed to change the lives of both men and women

Chloe Chambraud, Business in the Community Gender Equality Director, introduces a new groundbreaking project.

We spend 35% of our waking hours at work - almost a third of our lives - but our so-called “work-life balance” has deteriorated over the last few years. Given the fact that work-life balance is the number one consideration for job satisfaction for many people, with a recent survey finding that a third of employees wanted to work more flexibly, I find this both surprising and worrying.

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Employees who come home too drained to cook a meal, play with their children, go for a jog or read a book are less happy. And those who are prevented from spending enough time with their partner and/or family systematically report lower levels of wellbeing. No need to say that they are less engaged and productive as a result.

This is a growing concern for employers since 95% of millennials define work-life balance as a priority. Put simply, men and women are no longer prepared to give up everything for work. Their attitudes and aspirations have evolved, but employers haven’t kept up with the pace of change.

Gone are the days of dads working long hours while mums stayed at home to look after the house and kids. In fact, just 22% of couples with dependent children follow this model – the smallest percentage ever recorded – while 64% have two full-time working parents. Many families are just not able 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 disproportionate shouldering of domestic duties severely restricts women’s potential.

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. They can be. Women with caring responsibilities are more likely to be underemployed, take career breaks, work part-time or in casualised forms of employment 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, men 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 recent survey from the charity Working Families found that younger fathers are most frustrated about work interfering with their family lives. If this resentment continues to build, employers who 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. Besides, fathers are twice as likely as mothers to have their requests for flexible working turned down.

Of course, caring responsibilities don’t just apply to parents. 42% 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 over half of carers who are not working say that 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.

I see gender equality as the ability for 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. At Business in the Community, we want to change this.

Our new Equal Lives project, in partnership with Santander UK, will aim 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 conduct a series of focus groups and interviews, and we will launch a large-scale survey aiming to reach over 10,000 men in spring 2018. We will highlight existing gaps in policy and practice and showcase successful policies and initiatives. The research findings, along with best practice recommendations, will be published in September 2018.

Gloria Steinem once said, “Women are not going to be equal outside the home until men are equal in it.” This project aims to do just that benefiting women, men, families, and of course business.