Dad’s the word

More men are finding themselves caught in the crosshairs between two diverging expectations: traditional breadwinner and modern father. For many men, the reality of this conflict is a growing concern as they attempt to navigate work and family obligations.

A recent report released by the Australian Institute of Family Studies (AIFS), shows that fathers are becoming more involved in child care. However, it also found for the majority of families the number of hours fathers spend in paid employment remains the same after having children as it was before having children.

According to AIFS, fathers are showing preference for working flexibly or working from home over arrangements that reduce work hours.

Another recent study, published in the Journal of Sociology, confirmed that 90 per cent of employed fathers work full-time and about one in two of those fathers work over 45 hours a week.

Leticia Coles, researcher at the University of Queensland and co-author of the research, suggested that the fathers who are accessing flexible work are using these arrangements to shift their hours to accommodate child care rather than reduce them. Coles attributes this tendency to the enduring male breadwinner culture in Australia.

This culture clash is taking its toll on fathers.

As part of AIFS’ Fathers at Work symposium, Amanda Cooklin, a senior research fellow at Latrobe University, presented research that found one in three fathers reported experiencing work-family conflict. In addition, these fathers also reported high psychological distress as a result.

There are two important pieces to tackling men’s growing need for work-family balance.

Firstly, employers must reframe policies that considered ‘mum-friendly’ to ‘parent-friendly’. Unfortunately, Workplace Gender Equality Agency (WGEA) data shows that overwhelmingly, men still lack employer support in their efforts to juggle work and care.

Access to parental leave is not improving. In 2014, 48.5% of employers offered primary carers leave. The number has dropped to 47.9% in 2018.

While the number of men accessing parental leave has improved, the number is still too low. In 2014, 1.9% of men utilised parental leave. In 2018, this number had risen to just 2.3%.


A similar sentiment is reflected in WGEA data on flexible work. While 70.7% of employers have a policy and/or strategy for flexible working, just one in 20 set targets for employee engagement.

More alarmingly, less than 2 in 100 organisations have set targets specifically for men’s engagement in flexible work.

Employers must make it a priority to ensure men have the equal access to flexible work and parental leave.

However, policies alone will not solve this issue. This is where the second piece comes in. We must all play our part to show equal support for women and men.

Men often report added stigma, suspicion and exclusion when they attempt to be actively involved in the care of their children.

It will take all of us to embrace, encourage and support the importance of men as carers.

Looking at the big picture, making it easier for men to share the care at home will enrich men’s lives and make a significant difference to women’s career progression and earning capacity.

Men are the other side of the gender equality coin.