Working Dads: How fathers can improve gender equality at work

Working Dads: How fathers can improve gender equality at work

AIMS accountants, Adam West and Kaysen Pyndiah, talk about taking greater responsibility as fathers. But can it have a knock-on effect for women in the workplace too?

Working Dads: How fathers can improve gender equality at work

Perhaps it wasn’t a surprise that Adam West completely forgot our interview. He may be a highly organised, deadline-driven AIMS accountant, equipped with a specialised calendar he calls “The battle board”; but the summer holidays have begun. Joel, his 12-year-old son, takes up everything outside of work and chats with hacks can easily slip through the net.

Their house, tucked away in a quiet corner of Ashtead, is a teenager’s dream. Xbox controllers are scattered across the sofa, which sits a perfect distance from the large HD TV, and a collection of guitars and amps cover the walls. It appears Joel is a natural musician too.

“It’s an absolute joy watching him play. Being able to be here when Joel’s with me and hearing him practice downstairs, it’s just amazing to be able to do what I do and be part of his life,” West said.

West describes his decision to leave his senior role at the o2 arena and become an AIMS accountant as the best thing he ever did. Strangely, he thinks of it almost as a mid-life crisis.

“I realised that life was passing me by. I had this son who I loved dearly, and I wasn’t able to spend any time with him. I didn’t have that in my own childhood. It wasn’t the pattern that I wanted to follow. I want to be there.”

“Women talk about having a maternal instinct. It was nothing like that. But I just knew this was what I needed to do.”

At school, Joel had a number of emotional and behavioural issues which were eventually diagnosed as ADHD. West believes his being at home was crucial in helping Joel best manage his abundance of energy.

“He’s a straight A student, he is a fantastic guitarist, he’s got so much energy, he’s got so much creativity. And I’m so proud of him. I just think what would have happened if I hadn’t been here?”

“When he was younger, he was a hell of a lot less calm. I was able to work with him and help him to harness it. It’s almost like it was serendipity.”

Missing a trick

For Kaysen Pyndiah, a father of two young children, there was a similar story. Working in banking, the work/life balance was beginning to become unsustainable and something had to give.

“In banking, salaries had been frozen, bonus pools had been shrinking. People were being told to do more for less money. That wasn’t going down well, I was having to work a lot harder to motivate my staff and I was having to spend a lot more time at work on a continual basis.

“But I was also finding at home my children were growing. They were more and more in need of time from me. I started feeling around 2014-2015, I was missing a trick.”

Pyndiah left his role in investment banking for AIMS too. The effect on his family life was transformative.

“Most of the time I would leave home when my kids were still in bed and come home when they were in bed. While my wife would wait for me to have dinner. Now we can have dinner with the kids, we can sit down and talk, which is nice to do.”

For Pyndiah’s wife, it meant she could finally return to work. Previously, she was doing “all the school drop offs, all the school pickups. It was impossible for her to work.”

The motherhood gap

It is well known that there remains a gender pay gap in the UK, but there is a larger penalty for mothers, known as the “motherhood gap”, affecting career progression and pay. Sarah Chilton, a specialist in employment law and partner at CM Murray, said this trend continues in professional services.

“For many women, maternity leave still tends to have an adverse impact on their career progression. In professional services, someone going on any leave inevitably has to pass their clients to someone else, and will not necessarily get them back when they return.

“Not all firms have support in place for returners, to assist them to rebuild their practices, and where there is no support, or where someone’s practice is affected by a period of leave, that will usually have a knock-on effect on their pay and promotion prospects,” said Chilton.

Chilton added that when men take greater responsibility for child rearing, it has knock-on effects for women in the workplace too.

“If parental care responsibilities are shared more equally, the disadvantages currently experienced by many women going-on and returning-from maternity leave should lessen, levelling out the playing field between men and women,” she said.

“If both men and women take time out to care for children, eventually, this should help to narrow the gender pay gap, which is partly caused by issues relating to female progression and pay in the workplace.”

An impossible dream?

On one hand, fathers like West and Pyndiah leaving their roles to become AIMS accountants is a testament both to how society is changing and to the culture at AIMS. It shows that men are becoming more and more invested in having a work/family balance and are refusing to accept that their role in the family is solely as the breadwinner.

But on the other hand, it presents a rather uncomfortable question. Are there some jobs where having a family life, whether as a mother or a father, is simply impossible?

“It shouldn’t be, but sadly it can be incredibly difficult. In some circumstances, some roles can be harder to do on a flexible basis, but equally in other circumstances, employers could do more to enable greater flexibility and thereby more equal sharing of parental duties,” said Chilton.

Indeed, child psychologist Stephen Biddulph argues in his book, Raising Girls, that “If you routinely work a 55- or 60-hour week, including commute times, you just won’t cut it as a dad. Your sons will have problems in life, your daughters will have self-esteem issues, and it will be down to you.”

For Pyndiah, it certainly sounded like managing his workload with his parental responsibilities was an impossible task.

“In investment banking, very often some people work 80 hours a week, they’re there Saturdays or even whole weekends. That’s the client. That’s the environment. It tends to be like that.”

Pyndiah was also told he couldn’t take too much of his holiday, let alone have more flexible hours for his children.

“They [clients] say to you: ‘Well, look, you’re the one we trust. If you’re not around, or you work three days a week, when we need advice on Monday, when you may not be working, what do we do? We can’t call you at home, can we?’ By virtue of your position, it would practically be a non-starter to have flexible hours,” he said.

When it came to having a balance between family life and work, Pyndiah was emphatic about big firms’ approach. “I found that many people pay lip service really, they talk about it but when it comes to implementing it, it’s not going to be possible.”

West had a more abrupt realisation of what fatherhood would be like.

“I had a phone call as I was walking out the hospital with Joel from my boss asking me to confirm when I was going to be back at work,” he said.

Signs of life

However, there are signs that things have begun to change. For example, KPMG say that they have modernised, offering a range of services for people returning to work after a career break, including flexible working and shared parental leave packages.

“You don’t stop being a parent the moment you arrive at work which is why it’s really important that we have the right support in place for parents and parents to be,” said Anna Purchas, Head of People at KPMG UK.

“But really on their own, maternity and parental leave policies aren’t enough – it’s also about making sure there is a supportive culture for parents in the workplace. In a way the policy is the minimum and it’s the additional support on offer on either side that really demonstrates the worth and how supportive an employer is.”

Purchas said that these policies had to include men as much as women for the programmes to work.

“This isn’t just about our female staff or potential employees– our offer to parents is very much for our male employees too. Over the past five years the number of men at the firm who have taken paternity leave or the extended shared parental leave has steadily increased.

“For me it’s important that we open up the conversation and make sure that maternity and parental policies aren’t seen as a women’s issue – they are a workforce issue. My aim is to create a culture where asking to work from home when chicken pox strikes doesn’t just fall to Mum – Dad’s aren’t afraid to ask either,” she added.

The key for Pyndiah was that these sorts of measures retain talent in the industry.

“They’ve [the big four] never had trouble attracting people. But once people qualify after three, four years, then they start thinking ‘do I leave accountancy?’. A lot of those measures have made the workplace more friendly, and more importantly, friendly to younger women who are who are just becoming mothers, because very often what tends to happen is they have children and they leave, and they never come back.

“If you don’t have those flexible arrangements. You’ve lost talent. You’ve lost not just talent, but experienced talent. So hopefully, by allowing people who are part-time, that is going to change.”

Guitar hero

As the interview with Adam West finished, Joel treated us to his full repertoire of classic rock hits. He looked rather disappointed when we couldn’t name every Green Day song he was treating us to.

As West gave a tour of the house, it was easy to imagine him working through his battle board while Joel’s guitar reverberated through the walls. It was the balance of work and family which brought West joy.

Hopefully as time goes on, more fathers will be like West and Pyndiah, and more firms will see fathers, not just men.


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