According to the research, "women who can set their own hours, work from home or are part-time are much more likely to recommend their employers to others, but those "freedoms" have the opposite effect on men."
Families take many different forms. There are single person households, the fastest growing household type and one that is changing the structures of our cities. Then there are share households especially but not exclusively among the young. There are single parent families where child rearing devolves upon that parent, sometimes with help from grandparents or other relatives. This is another category that grew rapidly and is now feeding into the growth of single person households as children leave home,. Couples without children is another growth category, in part because women are choosing to have children later or (in some cases) choosing not to have children at all. The traditional two parent with children family structure may still dominate the debate, but is now a minority in terms of household types.
Note that I have put all this in gender neutral terms. A single parent, for example, may be male or female. In fact, the first case I came across as a manager which really sensitised me to the issues involved a man whose wife had left him some time before leaving him to bring up the five children on his own. This obviously affected his work and working patterns, leading to what was in effect discrimination. If we look at couples now, while the male/female combination dominates, we also have female/female and male/male combinations with and without children. Penny Wong and her partner Sophie Allouache is one prominent example of female/female with children.
Flexibility, however, is not the only need. While much of the discussion and indeed policy making in this area is driven by middle class people in relatively secure jobs in the professions or larger organisations, an increasing proportion of Australians live in a world of often insecure sometimes poorly paid part time, temporary or contract work. In these circumstances, it makes perfect sense, indeed it may be imperative, to trade of flexibility for an enhanced degree of security. Availability of other family members such as grandparents can also be important.
Within two parent plus child or children families, arrangements again vary. At one end of the spectrum you have high powered couples pursuing careers with sufficient money to delegate a significant child care component to nannies. These couples are usually sufficiently senior for both to have a degree of flexibility in their working arrangements.
At the other end of the spectrum, one partner adopts a full time role. In the middle are a variety of sharing arrangements. However, a common feature is that one parent takes a larger role. Traditionally, this been a female role, although male participation has become more common. Roles may vary over time. Partly perhaps because male partners tend to be older, there seems to be an increasing trend for gender reversal in roles with the women playing the major role initially and then roles switching to allow the female partner to concentrate on her career.
However, it remains the case that women do more than men. The Bain and Company and Chief Executive Women report sits in this space. Increased flexibility in working arrangements for men may allow them to take on a greater childcare role, thus giving women more flexibility.
Whatever the gender of the primary child carer, the role comes with costs including reduced career opportunities, life time earnings and retirement savings that need to be considered. A significant proportion of marriages end in divorce. There are difficulties here with the statistics, but as a rough guide around 28% of marriages entered into between 1985 and 1987 can be expected to end in divorce.This proportion increases to 33% for all marriages entered into in 2000–2002.
In general, the lower earning partner (usually but not always the partner taking primary responsibility for child care) ends up worse off in terms of final retirement resources. I can't give a link here, I am quoting from memory, but this effect was clearly seen in the longer term position of women who divorced following the passage of the Family Law Act in 1975.
Turning to gender specific issues, women's issues are reasonably well covered, men's less well so.
The idea that child rearing is primarily a female responsibility remains deeply entrenched in Australia and among women as well as men. This is partly connected with the fact that women bear the child and are primarily responsible for its initial nurture, but also reflects deeply entrenched social attitudes.
From a women's perspective, this can be seen as both a curse and a blessing in career terms. It's a curse because it reinforces still extant if unsaid prejudices against female employment, thus reducing career opportunities. Regardless of the law, managers may be reluctant to appoint or promote women because they perceive pregnancy and child rearing as reducing flexibility and increasing costs. This can favour a male applicant compared to an equally competent woman. However, it's also a blessing at two levels.
At a societal level, considerable pressure has been placed on organisations to develop ways that will allow women to return to work and to work flexibly while pursuing career advancement. These may be imperfect, but they do exist and are continuing to evolve. At an individual level, women are more proactive than men in factoring pregnancy and child rearing into their career plans because they have to be.
The position facing men who might wish to adopt a larger if not primary child care role is more complicated.
The deeply entrenched societal view about the primacy of women in child care creates very real difficulties across a number of dimensions.
At a work level, there is no real expectation that men would wish to do so.A man who seeks reduced hours or greater work flexibility for child care reasons may experience considerable resistance. There is anecdotal evidence to suggest that men can experience difficulty in accessing existing parental leave provisions even when legally entitled, while the decision to work flexibly is seen at best as opting out in career terms, leading to a career hit.
The figures in the above chart are quite telling. While women's willingness to recommend an organisation increase with work flexibility, men's collapses, from 26% for those who have not worked flexible hours to 11% for those who have worked flexible hours to just 4% for those currently working flexible hours. I don't think it any coincidence that nearly all of us who did play major child care roles when my daughters were at school were self-employed.
The societal view about the primacy of women in child care has other effects. The dominance of women in the daily routines of school and life, I think that this is true for boys as well although my experience is with the girls, creates difficulties for men in simply fitting in. This is compounded by suspicion, especially but not only with girls, about the presence of men, a suspicion that has got worse with the growing concerns about paedophilia. From experience, all this means that the primary child care role can be very isolating if you are a male.
Two further factors are worth mentioning.
The first is the timing effect I mentioned previously, the apparently increasing trend for gender reversal in roles with the women playing the major role initially and then roles switching to allow the female partner to concentrate on her career. Depending on the exact timing as well as the barriers I referred to earlier, a decision by a male to take a more active and especially the primary role can indeed be an effective decision to opt out of a career.
The second factor is the dependency factor. It can be extremely difficult for a man to opt for a bigger child rearing role where that makes him financially dependent on his partner.
Summarising, there is no doubt that the report has highlighted a genuine issue, that both men and women would benefit from the adoption of more flexible working arrangements for men. However, that conclusion has to be qualified in certain respects. To begin with, it is difficult to apply such arrangements to the growing proportion of the workforce in temporary, contract or part time arrangements. The proposal also has to recognise and accommodate the particular difficulties men face in opting for more flexible arrangements. Finally, it is actually hard to see significant change so long as the dominant societal attitude among women as well as men that women have the final primary responsibility for child rearing.
Note to regular readers
I'm sorry for the delay in posting. This post took me longer to complete than expected.