This Father’s Day, let’s encourage men to work flexibly!

Media releases

Father’s Day is a day to celebrate the contributions of fathers in our families and communities. But Australian workplaces don’t necessarily make it easy for men to be actively involved in their families, according to Diversity Council Australia (DCA).

DCA’s research found that having the flexibility to manage family/personal life was the third most highly valued job characteristic for young fathers (i.e. under 35 years of age). However, while three quarters (79%) of them would prefer to choose their start and finish times, only 41% actually currently do. Similarly, 79% of young fathers prefer to work a compressed working week and only 24% actually do. And 56% of young fathers would prefer to work part or regular hours at home, while only 13% actually do. Some 37% of young fathers indicated that they had seriously considered leaving their organisation because of a lack of flexibility.

These findings are supported by other research which found:

  • Fathers are employed in 90% of all opposite-sex couples with dependent children – and in 92% of these families, the father is employed full-time for an average of 41 hours a week.[1] Very few men work part-time (18% vs 46% for women[2]).
  • Some 28% of men worked 48+ hours per week (compared to 10% of women). Fathers worked an average of 46 hours and of all family types (single/coupled/with and without children) they were the group most likely to prefer to decrease their working hours (by around 6 hours – half say they would like to do so). [3]
  • Fathers of kindergarten-aged children work 47 hours per week[4] and around 34% of fathers work more than 50 hours a week[5].
  • One quarter (27%)[6] of fathers and partners experienced discrimination related to parental leave and return to work, despite taking very short periods of leave.
  • Only slightly more than a third (36%)[7] take up the two weeks of government-funded Dad and Partner Pay when they are on unpaid leave from work or are not working.

So what’s behind this? Unfortunately workplace support for men (and fathers) working flexibly appears to be lacking, according to Lisa Annese, DCA’s CEO.

“Even though men want and need access to flexible working to support their important role as fathers, they are failing to take advantage of it. It’s very disappointing that young fathers report discrimination and difficulties in managing the demands of their work and personal life – and feel they have to choose between advancing in their jobs and devoting time to their family.

“It’s critical that we challenge and shift prevailing attitudes, expectations and cultural norms that hinder men working flexibly. The idea that only women should work flexibly and should shoulder all caring responsibilities is outdated and unhelpful – to men and women. The lack of organisational support for flexible working and the scarcity of senior men working flexibly are a big part of the problem,” said Lisa.

“Thankfully more employers are embracing flexible work and men need to be able to take advantage of this”, added Lisa.

“Moves by major employers like Telstra, ANZ, ASX and PwC to mandate that all roles can be considered flexible are a big step forward for mainstreaming flexible working. We need to see more senior male leaders follow the lead of Westpac’s CEO, Brian Hartzer who has been very public about taking up flexible working options due to his family responsibilities.

“The Equilibrium Man Challenge, which chronicles the experiences of a group of men trying to work flexibly, is a real eye opener about the barriers. While we know the benefits of working flexibly for organisations and individuals, it’s obvious we need to do a lot more to enable fathers to access the flexibility they and their families need – but we first need to change the culture,” said Lisa.

Leading employers are beginning to introduce other innovative policies to support fathers in their workplaces, including National Australia Bank which has recently extended its paid parental leave policy to its male workers so they can take 12 weeks’ paid primary carer leave anytime within the first 12 months of a child's life.

Internationally, companies are also seeing the benefit in increasing their support for dads including Netflix (up to one year of paid parental leave), Microsoft (three months’ paid leave for dads), and Virgin (one year of shared paid parental leave).

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[1] Australian Bureau of Statistics, 2013, Gender Indicators Australia

[2] Australian Bureau of Statistics, 2015, Labour Force Australia July 2015

[3] The Australian Work Life Index, 2012.

[4] The Longitudinal Study of Australian Children.

[5] Parents’ Jobs in Australia: Work Hours Polarisation and the Consequences for Job Quality and Gender Equality, 2011.

[6] Australian Human Rights Commission, Supporting Working Parents: Pregnancy and Return to Work National Review - Report, 2014.

[7] Institute for Social Science Research: The University of Queensland, 2015, Department of Social Security Paid Parental Leave Evaluation Final Report