“Being a role model is the most powerful form of education. Too often fathers neglect it because they get so caught up in making a living they forget to make a life.” — John Wooden, basketball coach and author
COVID-19 has brought fatherhood into close focus. The pandemic has exposed and aggravated inequalities. Fathers in lower paid jobs who regularly struggle to make ends meet were faced with the prospect of disrupted shifts, less work, or being laid off altogether; for those able to continue with work, many didn't have the option of remote work which lent an added risk of exposing their families to COVID-19.
For fathers who were able to work from home during this period, there was a silver lining: many fathers have been able to devote more time to their families. Globally, prolonged working from home, the halt on business travel and cancellation of other activities has meant that many fathers are spending more time at home and sharing in parenting their children in a significantly more equitable way.
In more normal times, working fathers face different types of pressure to working mothers, and would equally benefit from gender equality. In some work environments, there is significant stigma attached to requests for parental leave, especially from men. For heterosexual couples, there is often the traditional expectation that men will take up the mantle of being the primary earner, making it difficult for men to fully assume their parental role.
In countries that rank high on the gender equality index, men report that they are more satisfied with life. In Hong Kong, we still have several hurdles to overcome before we get close to gender parity. A survey from Community Business found 60% of men believe that their work life balance has deteriorated in the last 10 years. Findings from a survey by Talking Talent are equally grim: 71% of men think that work pressure often negatively impacts their ability to be the parent they’d like to be. A significant 57% of men say they took shorter parental leave than they would have liked to and 39% thought that extended leave is detrimental to a man’s career.
Among employees aged 25-34, 60% believe their own children will have it just as hard when they themselves become working parents. So unless there are critical changes to the current situation, the future does not look that bright.
What can we do?
At TWF, we continue to advocate for equitable parental leave as part of broader inclusive, family-friendly policies that work for everyone, promote gender diverse workplaces and support more balanced home lives.
We also actively integrate discussions around parenting skills and values into our programmes. Our Male Allies curriculum includes discussions around parenthood, exploring local research and how to bridge company policy and the reality of working men’s lives, in a city with some of the longest working hours in the world. Our Digital Literacy Programme, which provides fundamental digital literacy skills to primary school girls together with their parents, has a number of fathers who attend the workshops with their daughters.
We are hopeful that this period of lockdown will accelerate slowly shifting attitudes that fathers can and should build more balance between careers and parenthood without adverse effects to their career progression. Employers need to offer parental leave and work to create a culture that supports and includes fathers. Senior business leaders can role model change by taking parental leave or flex time to spend time with their families and supporting their male colleagues to do the same. To build a gender equal Hong Kong, we need to dismantle gendered expectations around parenting roles and enable working parents – including fathers – to fully thrive.
Get in touch at Fiona.Nott@twfhk.org.