Raising the profile of fathers in companies
No longer is finding the right balance between family and work to be an issue for women alone, because many men today are also seeking this balance. They want to contribute more, take responsibility as fathers and ensure that parental duties are distributed more fairly. So it’s all the more important that companies pay heed to these wishes.
Here at SMA, we also want to provide fathers with greater support. So to celebrate “Diversity Tuesday,” we talked to an expert, Volker Baisch, who has been championing the cause of fathers in companies for more than 20 years. Through the fathers’ network conpadres, he brings companies, parents and politicians together to put a sharper focus on how strong fathers benefit society as a whole.
What role do men play within their families today?
Volker Baisch: Men – and fathers in particular – today often want to play more of a partnering role within the family nucleus than perhaps their own fathers did. This is demonstrated time and again in surveys, including the conpadres trend study that we conducted last year. Fathers don’t want to be reduced merely to a “breadwinner” role; they want to be there for their children and partners and perform care duties. That said, couples continue to play their learned roles – after all, after the birth of the first child, the traditional distribution of duties between the man and woman still prevails. The reasons behind this are many and various, encompassing everything from dominant social structures like tax splitting for married couples and learned role expectations through to the individual needs of couples themselves.
What tips does the fathers’ network conpadres offer families looking to create an equitable family life?
We want to empower fathers to break out of the old, unequal gender roles – roles that aren’t conducive to their happiness either – and actively seek to play a more partnering and balanced role within their families. One way in which fathers can be encouraged along this path is to network with other fathers and men in similar life circumstances. They will see that they are not alone in their situation; discover all sorts of tips and tricks to help them; and learn, as men, to talk within a work context also about family, children and the work–life balance. From where I’m standing, this is a win-win for fathers everywhere. It’s important especially for younger couples to talk about the mental load – so the unseen planning that goes into the carer role, which is still often exclusively the domain of mothers – with each other regularly and productively.
What impact do family roles have on professional life, and is the problem of skills shortages exacerbated as a result?
Plain and simply, the traditional model whereby men work full time and women part time means that we are depriving the job market of a significant number of qualified women and pushing them instead into unpaid care work within their families. That doesn’t do much to solve the problem of skills shortages. And on top of that, many women who are working part time actually want to work more. In addition, and as has been shown repeatedly in surveys, many fathers are keen to transition toward “full time lite” or even a four-day week, though this rarely becomes reality. So the baseline situation is actually pretty good: If women want to work more and men less, it shouldn’t be too difficult to find a solution. However, the ability to network with like-minded people – through a company fathers’ network, for example – is important.
How can companies help fathers find the right balance between professional and family life?
The best way for companies to support their male employees is to articulate and recognize their need for this balance and to provide the right framework inside the company for this to occur. A corporate and management culture that actively supports this development rather than merely paying it lip service is crucial here. In particular, role models in management positions who credibly and authentically demonstrate the successful combination of work and family life are worth their weight in gold and, like networks, can transform the corporate culture over the medium term. This has a major impact not only inside the company but also beyond its boundaries by bolstering the employer brand.
Volker, thank you for the interview.
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