Confessions of A WORKING FATHER
By Brian Ballantyne
I have been travelling a lot with work recently, invited over to our tech offices in Madrid and Berlin, and even to a data centre in Virginia. I lead our women in engineering group, and I am asked to give talks on “how to be a better ally for women in tech,” mostly to groups of men, but also (as a Spanish woman pointed out) the tips are useful for other women to hear too.
I talk about issues facing women in tech, as I have seen and heard them over the years. It is intended as a conversation starter, a gentle introduction to the topic; since many men feel that gender means women, and are new to the realisation that it’s a shared society; we are all in this together. A culture we can all belong to.
One thing I talk about is the vulnerability that women face when it comes to childbirth. Men are more involved these days too, with more fathers taking parental leave, juggling work with school drop offs and pick ups, etc. But usually men get a gold medal for this, what a great dad! Whereas women are unlikely to get any special praise, more often it’s a feeling of guilt: uncommitted worker and absent mother.
I highlight in my talks that there are phrases like cleaning lady and male nurse; how even on some visa application forms under profession you have “Businessman” and “Housewife”, with no alternative or inclusive catch-all. Which means business women and house husbands have to select “Other” – marking themselves as different to the stereotypes of our society. Or they have to tick the box at odds with their sex.
“Working mother” is a similar kind of phrase. The archaic idea that as a modern society we still feel the need to caveat “mother”
In my talks I say that we rarely hear the phrase “working father,” it is assumed that a father is autonomous from family duties and puts his work first; why else does getting married give better job prospects for men, and worse for women? There are many such inequities in society, where what’s bad for the goose (e.g. height) is good for the gander, so to speak.
In implicit association tests people tend to match “worker” with “man” most quickly, so it’s no surprise that the “male person” qualifier is not usually seen next to “worker,” which again is a major blind spot in our unconscious bias. The latest McKinsey research on women in the workplace suggests 50% of American men believe 1 women in a group of 10 workers is sufficent diversity (and 33% of women agree).
So it was in this context in mind that I posted on LinkedIn recently about being a working father. I meant it ironically, but have now come to own and proudly embrace the term. This post caught the eye of Abbie Coleman from MMB Magazine (MMB) and she was kind enough to say how much she liked me using the phrase, and encouraged me to stick with it. Her words got me thinking, and I came up with the idea “Confessions of a Working Father,” which is the hashtag for my blog posts on LinkedIn, and the title of my Kindle eBook.
I feel that it has really resonated with a lot of people, fathers and mothers alike. Whether it is a post about the family I grew up in, the women role models in my life, the fact I do laundry (or even sometimes have a nap or a bath) while working from home, or my new term Parenting from Work, people really seem to like the working father theme and stories. At work I have set up a “working fathers” chat group and worldwide it now has hundreds of members, dads grateful to have a community.
Bringing more men into the conversation, and highlighting how much fathers and mothers have in common, is really the point of it all. I really believe the answer to issues facing mothers at work isn’t to keep telling them to lean in more, and police their emotions, but rather to get everyone involved and engaged. We all mean business: mums, and dads too!