Celebrating Fathers on International Men’s Day

Our Head of Thought Leadership, Jennifer, shares findings that suggest men are actively weighing up care responsibilities, whether that’s child, adult or eldercare, in their career plans

Each year, 19th November is International Men’s Day. The UK themes for the Day are:

  • Making a positive difference to the wellbeing and lives of men and boys
  • Promoting a positive conversation about men, manhood and masculinity
  • Raising awareness and/or funds for charities supporting men and boys’ wellbeing

Listening to Fathers

One of the positive conversations we can all have about men right now is the way that many fathers recently found opportunities for more involvement in home life. And how many dads are now looking for a better work-life balance. The past 20 months or so have presented many challenges, among them work-life craziness for parents of all genders when care settings and schools were closed.

Now, as we emerge into a rethink, with new hybrid ways of working for many (where roles permit) there is much talk about the gendered impact of covid. One voice to amplify here is that of dads who are fully involved at home. The Fatherhood Institute published research with over 2,000 dads on their lockdown experiences. Essentially, the study found many fathers did more housework, care-giving and education than before. Like everyone, they struggled at times in balancing it all. They also valued the experience, found it enhanced their parenting and their wellbeing. Three-quarters (76%) of those fathers who were full-time at home during lockdown said they’d like more flexible working, and nearly two-thirds (63%) would like more home-working in future.

Similarly, in Bright Horizons’ own Modern Families Index Spotlight in 2021, just over a quarter of fathers (26%) stated that they now do more childcare than they did the previous year; and 80% of these men would like to continue to do so.

In the same study, there is strong evidence that fathers are actively weighing up care responsibilities in their career plans. More than 7 in 10 (71%) overall in that random sample of 1,000 working parents would need to carefully consider their childcare options before accepting or applying for either a promotion or a new job. This was indicated by 73% of women and 69% of men.

We need to be talking more about this, whether as couples (of whatever blend) or at work, because there is clearly a movement going on.

Missing Paternity Leave

Against this context of more involvement, it is concerning that take-up of paternity leave has dropped to a 10-year low. A report by law firm EMW found that just 27 per cent of eligible fathers were taking up the offer of leave. In the year to March 2021, just over 170,000 men took paternity leave, compared to over 650,000 taking maternity leave. This was down from 213,500 men who took paternity leave between March 2017 and March 2018.

As well as making sure that any conversations about flexible working include men (whether or not they are fathers) we also need to keep supporting fathers to take time out when they start, or expand, a family. Sharing parenting in the early stages has many benefits for couples, and for families, including better educational outcomes for children.

Caring Across Life Stages

The Modern Families Index also asked about adult and eldercare responsibilities. It emerged that adult care was an even bigger concern than childcare during a career transition. Three-quarters (75%) overall of those who indicated a caring responsibility would need to consider their eldercare options before accepting or applying for a promotion or new job. This applied to 73% of female eldercarers and to 77% of men with eldercare responsibilities.

This growing need to maintain eldercare responsibilities alongside career affected younger groups than we might imagine, across gender. The study found that, across genders, eldercare considerations were of most concern for 35-44 year olds (84% would have to consider adult care arrangements before a promotion or new role), followed by 26-34 year olds (77%).

What Will You Do?

Under ‘How to Mark IMD in 2021’ there’s a section called: ‘You can celebrate men in all their hairy diversity’. I’m glad they wrote that rather than me, as I might have imagined that was patronising.

But it got me thinking. What will I actually do? One of the suggestions on the IMD page is ‘sending an International Men’s Day message or card to the important men in your life who you want to acknowledge – a relative, friend, neighbour, colleague or partner’.

I will. I’ll do that. I’ll send them to my sons. They are both taller than me now, and one of them is indeed rather hairy. What I want to acknowledge to them is they are part of a generation that fills me with hope, actually; especially when it comes to gender equality.

They just don’t carry the same old prejudices or stereotypes about ‘men’ and ‘women’. And, they have the same ability as the somewhat older Andy Murray to come up with the dry, put-down reminder when someone makes an assumption that drives a wedge between men and women, or mothers and fathers.


Jennifer Liston-Smith is Head of Thought Leadership with Bright Horizons

For over 20 years, Jennifer has been relentless in pursuit of innovation, identifying, defining and sharing best practice and 'next practice' for leading global employers in flexible working, family-friendly and wellbeing programmes, closing the gender pay gap and promoting gender-inclusive parenting. She is a sought-after speaker, writer, conference moderator and consultant on these topics and more.