New research published this week identifies that it is essential for employers to improve support for working fathers in order to achieve equality for working mothers.

Organisations need to go further than setting policy to achieve this – they need working practices that make it easier for employees to share parental responsibilities between mum and dad.

It is a key conclusion from research commissioned by Talking Talent, a global coaching consultancy leading the gender diversity agenda, who asked Censuswide to talk to over 7,000 working parents about their experiences.

Successfully sharing their role as parents is essential for women to continue the progression of their careers and is key to closing the gender pay gap.  But it will only succeed if organisations ensure working dads don’t face exactly the same negative experiences which have stopped working mums progressing in the past.

The research found that over half (52%) of working parents, including 26% men and 30% women, think that their career has slowed down compared to their childless colleagues.

Difficulties for dads

44% of working mothers found it difficult to keep an interesting job – but even more working fathers (53%) are finding this a challenge too.

‘Working parent guilt’ isn’t the preserve of mothers either, and more men (66%) than women (60%) felt guilty at not spending enough time with their children.

And it appears that working dads are finding it harder to secure support from their employers too. 57% of all those surveyed wanted flexible working hours. While 21% of women have never had a request turned down, only 14% of men experienced the same.

Rebecca Hourston, Head of Working Parent & Executive Coaching Programmes at Talking Talent, said:

“Stepping up to address these challenges is an important future investment for organisations. Attitudes and expectations are changing fast among young people and 68% of our respondents expected that the next generation would find it just as hard as them to balance work and parenthood.”

Sharing towards a solution

The research shows how shared parental leave (SPL) can lead the way. In the UK, two-thirds (66%) of working parents agreed that SPL can benefit couples by preparing them to share parental responsibilities more equally in future years.

Rebecca Hourston from Talking Talent continued:

“How your organisation talks about parental leave – how openly it communicates – tells us everything we need to know about their commitment to gender equality. To send a clear and positive message, employers need to be transparent and proactive in publishing their policies on parental leave.”

The research shows that over half of parents (56%) would have been very likely to share parental leave if their pay and working conditions had met their needs but  half of respondents (51%) thought that fathers who took SPL would experience a detrimental effect on their careers, and 53% feared judgement if they chose SPL.

Rebecca Hourston from Talking Talent added:

“Employers have a crucial role to play in making SPL both available and appealing. Organisations with their fingers on the pulse need to encourage both men and women to view SPL in a more positive light by demonstrating that with the right support, the relationship between parenthood and professional success can be mutually beneficial.”

Practice what you promise…

Where do organisations start? The new research points them in the right direction. More than half of working parents (53%) experienced a significant gap between what their workplace says it’s doing and what it’s actually doing; around half of that group (26% of the total) made this point strongly.

One in three parents surveyed, struggled to understand their company’s policy on parental leave for example.

Rebecca Hourston from Talking Talent said:

By debunking tired myths about theoretical losses of skills or the supposed dangers of flexible working, this report challenges all types of organisations to close the gap between their policies for supporting working parents and their actual, ongoing practices. Achieving this will be a vital step towards truly inclusive behaviour.