Caregiving dads and the "fatherhood forfeit"
or, an interview with Dr. Jasmine Kelland, author of "Caregiving Fathers in the Workplace"
We talk a lot about working motherhood here, but I wanted to do a piece on working dads. Specifically, I wanted to write about working dads who actively engage in parenting in a way that sometimes impacts their careers. I was excited to come across Jasmine Kelland’s book Caregiving Fathers in the Workplace: Organizational Experiences and the Fatherhood Forfeit, and wanted to interview her for the newsletter
Dr. Kelland is a Lecturer in Human Resource Management at the University of Plymouth (UK). Prior to joining academia she had a successful career in Human Resources, working in HR Management in various organizations such as the NHS, Boots the Chemist and ITV. She is also the mom of three teenage daughters.
JW: Though it’s true that there’s an increasing number of dads taking on caregiving roles, there is still—as you note in your book—a gap between the narrative of the “egalitarian dad” and the data that shows that the majority of child-rearing still falls to moms.
JK: There’s so much rhetoric about things changing, isn't there? And while there certainly are lots of positive role models, and some things have changed, things haven't changed as much as we would like when you look at working hours and household division of labor.
This harkens back to the expectation of how moms and dads should behave. Parental stereotyping is so ingrained that it's really difficult for people to move from that. So even whilst people might encourage dads to be more involved, there is still the expectation that “good” dads will provide for their family and “good” moms will put their family first. And you see lots of challenges for both mums and dads when they deviate from that. The motherhood penalty for mums is well-documented. But what I think is really interesting, and what I've uncovered in my research, is that when dads deviate from this expectation, they face challenges too.
JW: Yes, you call this the "fatherhood forfeit”. Tell us what you mean and how it’s experienced by caregiving fathers?
JK: In my research I found that the fatherhood forfeit has four main elements. The first one is that dads are less likely to obtain a role that allows them to combine caregiving with work. In my research, I asked managers to rank both mum and dad candidates for a full-time job and a part-time job. The dads who wanted to work part-time—to allow them to have an active role in caregiving—scored the lowest of all groups. So straight off, they are less likely to obtain a job that allows them to take an active role in caregiving.
The other three elements pertain to the treatment of that father who is trying to take an active role. Caregiving fathers are consistently put in a secondary position, regardless of what their actual arrangements are in their families. So even if they're the primary parent, the school or the doctor is still calling mum first. And that can be really quite difficult for the fathers who are in that role. It makes me think of the cartoon Peppa Pig. They all love Daddy Pig, but he’s never quite as good as mum. And that secondary status is really demoralizing for dads.
The third element of the fatherhood forfeit is that caregiving fathers obtain less workplace support than working mums. This data comes from dads’ self-reports, but also from mums and managers. When dads do get support, it's very much subject to negotiation.
If you take, for example, a sick child who needs attending. Caregiving dads report having to justify the whereabouts of their partner, their mom, their mother's mother, the nursery, the school. They are asked, “Are you sure that none of these other people can do it?” And then once all those people—largely female people—have been excluded from the running, then they can go. Whereas it’s clear to everyone in the office that if a kid is sick, mum needs to go, and it’s very rarely a problem. So dads report feeling like they have less bargaining power when it comes to these situations.
The last element is social mistreatment. Many dads I studied reported facing mockery, teasing, and criticism when they were trying to take an active role in caregiving. They were often asked questions like “What’s wrong with your wife?”, “Are there problems at home?”, or “What’s going on with you?”
They also felt that [spending more time with their kids] was linked to being idle. When dads were wanting to take an active role in caregiving, it was often perceived as a choice because they were lazy or trying to avoid work, rather than actually wanting to have an active role in caregiving. (Again, this is quite different to mums who aren’t perceived in the same way.) Dads also reported they often felt excluded in social settings with their children; for example not invited to play dates. Mums were sort of suspicious of their presence and wouldn't invite them around if they had a playgroup.
JW: You’ve already touched on this a bit, but tell us about the beliefs and stereotypes that underlie the biases caregiving dads face in the workplace.
JK: I think it's that it is really linked to traditional ideas of masculinity. Choosing a caregiving path also contradicts the notion of the ideal work as being somebody who's always available for work and they're happy to stay late and is always going to put work first. But one of the main stereotypes is that fathers provide and that fathers will be responsible for breadwinning.
JW: Explain how the "fatherhood forfeit" coexists with the well-documented "fatherhood bonus" that dads engaging in full-time work benefit form.
JK: It’s really the opposite side of the coin. When dads conform to the expected behaviors for dads, employers think that they're more stable, they're going to be more reliable, they're going to be more hardworking. It’s the opposite of how they judge women in that situation.
But when they move away from those breadwinning norms and want to move into a space where they're actively caregiving, it’s a problem. Straight away, they move from that stronger position to one where they're viewed more suspiciously. Employers don't quite understand it, they're not as happy to accept it, and dads will face some of the forfeits that I've outlined because people don't understand why they’re are moving away from that expected way of behaving.
JW: How can organizations better support caregiving fathers?
JK: Organizations need to be more explicit with the support that they give for dads. One of the main ways is to equalize parental leave arrangements wherever possible. For example, if you're giving mum a year off and you're giving dad two weeks off, you're communicating a message very, very quickly about how you feel about their paternal status.
Part of this falls to managers to have discussions with new dads, encouraging them to actually take leave and talking to them about what they need upon return. Quite often, unfortunately, people read family friendly policies and they read “mum”, so organizations have to be explicit about how their policies are gender-neutral. And that can be done by the managers or the HR team.
Closely linked to that is role modeling. For example, if one of your senior team members is actively parenting, then make sure that they promote that. Encourage them to tell their staff they're going to do the school run, instead of putting a fake meeting in their calendar. It’s really important to give people the opportunity to feel that their career won’t be negatively impacted because they see their senior manager doing it, too. A way to build on this even further is through mentoring programs and parenting forums [what we call ERGs, in the US].
Finally, I think it’s important to include caregiving dads—and working mums—in unconscious bias training. It’s important to look at parental stereotypes and how you might be able to minimize that within your workplace.
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