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IT'S NOT ALL ABOUT WOMEN

By Clare Jupp

Following our celebration of International Women’s Day earlier this year, as an original signatory of HM Treasury’s Women in Finance Charter and my ongoing commitment to promoting gender parity in financial services, I am keen to put in on record that I’m equally passionate to write about men in the workplace and the challenges that they face. Moreover, I’m certainly not a ‘bra burner’ nor even a feminist, but I am definitely a firm believer in equality; that is for all groups in society. Furthermore, as a Director of People Development, my ’cause’ is people and my ‘mission’ the equality of all in terms of pay, opportunities, benefits and rights.

From what we read, hear and seemingly know, men seem to have the upper hand in terms of salaries, opportunities and senior positions (and this is of course, an issue), but what about other issues such as work life balance and the right and opportunity to fulfil their roles as family members, parents or even carers? These issues seem to have the softer more ‘feminine’ edge about them: they’re perhaps not things that men talk about, would campaign about or even expect to be given assistance in achieving. True, things are changing and ‘thawing’ a little, but flexible working (let’s call it dynamic working from hereon) remains labelled as largely a benefit for and is deemed a ‘need’ for women: it’s women who want and need part time hours, want to do the school run, need to balance domestic, caring and work commitments etc. Really? I would argue however, that whilst these benefits and allowances may indeed be the desire of women, equally, they may be the perfectly natural desire of men too: caring for and loving family members and providing domestic support are not things that are exclusively of interest to and the right of women. Why shouldn’t men want to (and be able to) drop their children to school, take time out to care for elders or have dynamic working conditions that allow them to balance their commitments to work with other priorities in their lives?

Interestingly, I believe that by removing the label of dynamic working as a women’s issue and right, it would immediately solve two problems. Firstly, everybody would have access to better work life balance and secondly, gender parity would be massively enhanced and I would say actually achieved. During my working life in a previous career I have had to endure the guilt, embarrassment and discomfort of leaving meetings early, making arrangements around school commitments and dashing off with unfinished work stuffed in my bag.  However, if the right to dynamic working was made available to all whom needed it, it would become de stigmatised and seen as a bona fide entitlement, just the same as not working on a Bank Holiday. More importantly however, it would be regarded as a positive thing and not merely a ‘problem’ of one group in society.

Enough of the ranting and onto the research which, interestingly, supports my belief that men do seek opportunities for better work life balance and are indeed of the belief that they don’t have the right to ask for such ‘privileges’ for fear of the consequences. It was staggering to read some recent research reported by the BBC that suggested 44% of dads have lied about family related responsibilities. Furthermore, dads who want to be more involved in the care of their children actually fear that asking for more flexibility in their working patterns and hours might actually damage their careers and prospects. To continue, there is a suggestion that fathers who ask for time out and flexibility in order to meet family commitments are in danger of their employers questioning their commitment to their job.

So for me, the answer is straightforward. The change must be a cultural one and it must come from the top. Businesses must regard work life balance as being important for all and should look to at least begin discussions about how a dynamic working policy could work in their organisation.

I am a working parent who benefits from a dynamic working pattern and this is fantastic for me and for the business. This opportunity is extended to many team members and this is something that we are justly proud of. However, I am committed to ensuring that this discussion is opened up even further. We have employees who care for elder relatives, disabled relatives and those with chronic conditions. We also have employees who have family members with special needs and we have many fathers with young families. This is probably typical of any working environment and yet most organisations probably do not have a ‘Dynamic Working’ policy.

In a recent article, I wrote about work life balance and whether this is achievable in modern society. Without cultural change in the workplace, I believe it is not. In the same research that I spoke of earlier, it was reported that a huge cause of stress amongst men is the inability to achieve a work life balance. Therefore, in a commitment to ensuring a healthier, happier more equal workforce, it is surely time for organisations to take a serious look at working conditions and how all ‘people’ as a collective can be given a fairer deal.