New dads are a generation in transition and are trying to figure out what that means for them, their career and their family. Many face a career/life conflict that was not prevalent in previous generations.

New dads/parents today are increasingly focused on how they can be a supportive husband/partner and a great father without having a career-limiting impact. With dual working couples becoming the norm rather than the exception, the dynamic both in the home and the workplace is changing when it comes to juggling careers, sharing the load and the childcare. 

Through Clearbird’s New Dads Programmes, I see a new generation of dads who not just need to be at home to share parenting responsibilities but want to be at home to be part of their child’s life, to be present and hands on.

The home/family dynamic is changing and what works for each couple in terms of supporting each other’s careers at different stages, and dividing the household and logistical tasks of raising a family, running a home and navigating careers is unique. Every couple must work out for themselves what this formula may be. These are all important conversations to be had.

A New Generation of Dads

This generation is paving the way in changing society’s viewpoint and it’s a tall order. The many new dads we’ve had through our workshops tell us how valuable it is to be able to talk to other dads. They welcome the opportunity to share concerns, challenges, experiences and solutions, while openly discussing the impacts found at the intersection of family and professional life.

The typical concern expressed is around ‘How can I be a good dad, be home at a decent hour and not impact my career?’, ‘What will my manager and colleagues think?’ and ‘Will I be written off?’

The sense of relief is almost palpable when these questions are shared. They feel like they’re not alone and find a sense of community among peers that continues beyond the sessions. When experienced dads attend the programmes, the solidarity and advice they can share is invaluable to first-time dads.

And we have some laughs about the common challenges of being ‘handed’ baby the minute they walk through the door, not understanding why they are expected to read their partners mind as to what needs doing, and dividing up responsibilities.

Some of the key touchpoints that we talk about with these dads include:

  1. Return to work after the two or four weeks of parental leave and mum at home with the baby can be a tough transition. Those early sleep-deprived nights are hard, they just are – but they don’t last forever. Interestingly, men feel even less comfortable talking about the impact of the reality of sleep-deprivation. It goes unsaid, with ‘a just get on with it’ approach – which is valid. I believe a human conversation wouldn’t go amiss.
  2. The sense of being alone in this – maybe because of working with a younger team who just don’t get it or working with an older generation of colleagues who don’t quite get it either.
  3. As a new parent, trying to juggle career and family life, keep an eye on not going under the radar which can be easy to do during this stage. Maintain a focus on results, on outcomes on presence and impact and how you show up in your working hours.
  4. It can be difficult and intense from the minute dad walks in the door if mum is looking for a break (if she’s flying solo on the sleepless nights which often happens during maternity leave), with no time to decompress. 
  5. When mum is returning to work after maternity leave, it’s critical to discuss the division of duties at home. This is another key transition point that requires consciousness and conversation.  
  6. Be aware of unconscious bias at home too when thinking about childcare drop-offs/collection or minding a sick child. Consider that crèches and schools tend to call the mum first. Have the conversation – who has the big meeting that day? Who can better work from home? How should you divide up the sick days?
  7. How you will manage the real challenge of the long school holidays? It’s worth noting here that more dads are taking parental leave e.g. a month or more off over the summer to ease the strain of managing kids being out of school.
  8. Remember that you don’t have to bear the full financial responsibility all of the time (forgo the caveman hardwiring of hunter-gatherer). You can share this – and the mental load – with your wife/partner.

Playing Tag Team as a Dual-Working Couple

Challenges to bear in mind along the way for professional duos:

1. Career navigation for the dual working couple. A time may come when one person’s career takes off so there needs to be give and take to allow for a natural ebb and flow of individual career progressions.

I increasingly see examples of couples where there is a real ebb and flow with a clear consciousness. It may be that one parent is driving their career forward with a career change or promotion. And once established in that role, the other parent steps into a more supportive stance (less pressure) which allows the former to push forward. And then vice versa.

Don’t assume that it’s always dad or one half of the couple that stays in career advancement and the other in the supportive role. It doesn’t have to be one or the other. It can be both. The future of work is changing and our careers will be long. There is time. An awareness of unconscious bias at home towards whose career flourishes at what stage is important to call out.

2. Speaking of unconscious bias… Normally we speak about unconscious bias in the context of the workplace, within diversity and inclusion programmes. But unconscious bias can definitely be found right under our own roof. It’s critical not to make assumptions about who does what but to talk about it. As a couple, there are important conversations about dividing things fairly and playing to each person’s strengths. Why do the laundry if that’s your pet hate?

3. Figure out and agree how to communicate about who is doing what – is it verbal (beware of nagging) or written (making lists)? This conversation is a ‘one and done’ but the continued communication is so important to avoid – or at least reduce – frustrations and resentment. Mums often talk about carrying the mental load, ‘We have to think of everything’. Dads carry a load too but think differently. It’s not a competition.

This shift to dual working couples means partnering and having the open and honest conversations about how this is going to work. Don’t leave an empty space where assumptions and perceptions fill the gap.

A Generation in Transition

It’s worth repeating that we have a generation of dads who don’t just feel obliged to show up but who absolutely want to. They are all the more aware of the importance of mealtimes, bathtimes and bedtimes perhaps because their own dads weren’t around for these formative aspects. As the kids get bigger, this evolves into time for parent-teacher meetings, school concerts, and sports events.

Our Irish culture and societal expectations play a huge role in this status quo of quietness. It’s safe to say that fathers born around the middle of the last century (baby boomers) would have been hard pressed to empty a dishwasher, cook a meal or change a nappy. The idea of taking time off work to get involved with child rearing would barely have been considered.

Enter societal assumptions of the male. A more traditional manager can’t fathom why his employee needs to leave the office early (or on time) to go home, or pick up from creche. Plus it may not seem like a very ‘manly’ thing to do! It is often hard to be the ‘first’. And now men are experiencing that first hand. They may not have that role model at work or indeed in their own family. Putting in the hours was the first responsibility. Family time was for weekends (at best). Prioritising family above career is a real shift we see in our programme attendees.

Compare this to the new generation of leaders, who are part of dual working couples and are therefore more attuned to the challenges of parenting and juggling careers. They take a different view of juggling a career and family, without making it career limiting. They place the priority on outcomes and good work as opposed to hours and face time. They are supportive and inclusive as they are living that reality themselves.

And this doesn’t just apply to dual working couples. There are the dads whose wives may have taken a career break or have chosen to stay at home. Dad knows how exhausting it is to be home with youngsters and is keen to play his part and be home or make an effort to be home/present by 6 p.m.

Many mums are thanking COVID-19 for the opportunity that it has afforded families to see the reality of what juggling looks like. There are many silver linings with less travel, less commuting, and more family time. Unfortunately, we’re starting to see an impact of women leaving the workforce as the juggling was just too hard (especially when schools and crèches were closed) and the disproportionate representation of women in sectors impacted by job loss due to the pandemic. This brings us back to dividing responsibilities and keeping the focus on really strong communication both at home and at work.

The Organisational Impact

Clearbird has been delivering Back to Work From Maternity Leave Programmes for the last eight years and it’s fascinating to track the evolution of what I would call ‘diversity mature’ cultures. The workplace culture is fundamentally shifting and increasingly, we’re being asked to deliver both New Dads/Parents Programmes in addition to our Back to Work Programmes. Inclusive Management Workshops aimed at supporting managers in managing employees during this phase of key work and life transitions are (slowly) starting to become commonplace.

It’s really in the last three years that I’ve seen how the more open and inclusive companies are starting to recognise and embrace this new reality. These companies are pioneering the way in including new dads in their diversity and inclusion programmes. We have a long way to go for the culture and behaviours to shift but it has started.

It’s a step behind women in transition in the context of women who work while having families. Indeed, the rhetoric around diversity and inclusion from a gender perspective towards workplace leave has noticeably shifted from ‘mums’ to ‘parents’.  

Interestingly, society is slowly shifting too. We know that it’s becoming more commonplace for fathers to take longer paternity leave (increased from three days to two weeks in 2016 and four weeks in 2019) to bond with their new baby in those all-important early days. But only between 50% and 60% of eligible dads took it up during 2018 and 2019 respectively.

Some companies are well ahead of the curve, e.g. Vodafone who recently introduced four months of fully-paid parental leave open to mums and dads. Or Salesforce, that offers 12 weeks leave with 80% salary coverage and flexible arrangements thereafter.

Change is coming. These types of businesses are at the forefront of realising that supporting working parents is at the core of retaining and growing talent. They’re invested in flexible working practices, transparency and inclusive leadership.   

Why not contact me to find out more about our New Dads Programmes? 

Clearbird’s suite of Back to Work from Maternity Leave, New Parents and Inclusive Leadership Programmes support diversity and inclusion thinking and strategy.

We help females returning to the workplace to feel empowered, re-focused, confident and re-energised. We support new dads/parents who are also thinking about what this new phase means for them and enable this important conversation to take place. We support, guide and challenge managers in successfully managing these key life transition points – with an eye on retaining and developing female talent.

If organisationally and societally, we’re serious about Feeding the Female Leadership Pipeline and retaining and growing our female talent, supporting parents in this life transition to manage the mid-career phase is critical to every organisation’s diversity and inclusion agenda.

Our sessions are incredibly effective in bridging the communication gap, bringing a wider perspective and providing practical strategies to enable the important and honest conversations.

Contact us to find out more about our Group Programmes and 1:1 Maternity Coaching Services.

Tags: Dual Career Couple, Work/Life Balance, Career and Family, Parental Leave, Maternity Leave, Unconscious Bias, Competing Priorities