It’s a biological necessity for women to take time off work at certain points in life, but like most modern families, balancing busy careers and parental responsibilities has proved a real challenge for the Sheasby family.
Dr Chris Sheasby told Resource Harbour how he came to don his apron to help remedy his eldest son's weight loss, after he was diagnosed with a serious illness: “Betty Crocker cakes can cure all sorts, apparently. Hey, don’t judge - this isn’t the Bake Off!”
Until recently, Chris’ partner (a research scientist) had shouldered most of the childcare responsibilities (as well as having a career of her own) but, when the family circumstances changed, they decided his career was the one that was best suited to flexing hours to accommodate the hospital visits and additional care their son needed.
Chris met his partner whilst studying for a doctorate in immunology, but these days is an experienced Financial Director (FD) providing strategic financial advice to SMEs and not for profit organisations.
Surely that’s easy in this enlightened day and age?... It would seem not.
In the past when Chris worked in the commercial sector, Chris’ workplace asked why he needed to attend his son’s outpatient appointments. The assumption was that it was the mother’s job to go - not his. Conversely, Chris felt that there was an implied criticism of female colleagues who were 'choosing' to work long hours in the office, rather than being at home with their young children.
Admittedly, this was quite a few years ago and attitudes have improved for the better. But as recently as last year, a friend of Chris’ decided to take shared parental leave, despite a rather awkward meeting where he was told "off the record" by his boss that it would affect his career. Not to be disheartened, Chris negotiated with his employer, condensing his full working week into four days so he could spend more time with his two sons.
Of course, Friday was pretty full, and condensing 37.5(+) hours into the other four working days, makes for a long old week. Yet Chris would often receive comments such as “You must be enjoying your Fridays off...”
So, working as a consultant FD, going it alone, whilst initially a daunting prospect, seemed the best way forward to achieve the flexibility and autonomy Chris needed.
But when he approached recruiters, the most common feedback he received was that part time, consultancy-based work was not worth it for them, the margins were too small and they would not hit their revenue targets.
There were a handful of recruiters, Chris says, like Resource Harbour that he could turn to and he was also able to reach out to his own network. Within a relatively short period, he now has a client base he is proud of.
Mainly working from home, Chris communicates with Jakarta, Luxembourg, Sao Paulo and Sheffield! Unified comms (conference calls and other remote working tools) have enabled him to turn his spare room into a business hub; he avoids the commuting and has more time to spend at the school gate.
A third of parents at his school gate are dads. Ok, so the dads mostly wait in the cars or walk straight to the classroom, avoiding the huddle of mums on the tarmac. Chris himself still feels a little self-conscious when texting mums to organise play dates and has been known to sigh at the frequent mention of mums (and not dads) on the school run, on the car radio whilst he picks up his kids.
So, it’s not all equal yet but it’s getting there. In the scheme of things, this feels like minor, 'casual' sexism but Chris and his partner both feel that this latent, legacy expectation of working dads indirectly impacts the prospect of women achieving true parity in the workplace and closing the gender pay gap.
It is true that equality in the workplace, gender imbalances and 'casual' sexism are reducing, but to truly gain workplace equality, Chris feels we need equality of benefits for both sexes. And that is not necessarily about changes to employment law, but changes to commonly accepted working practices. Fathers are getting more involved in childcare and so changes to social norms are inevitable. Chris is also noticing a change in working practices in the “millennials” who are seeking a better work-life blend and gender balance in the workplace, which will further accelerate trends towards flexible working for both genders.
Only with structural and attitudinal changes, mums and dads will be able to share the load equally and be truly equal partners both at home and at work. To quote Professor Bohnet “we need structural change – to examine procedures such as how do we advertise, how do we evaluate people, promote people…. To start closing some of those gaps.”
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