I want you to imagine you’re a man who has taken several years out of the workforce as a Stay At Home Dad (SAHD). Your kids have started school and you’re thinking of returning to work. You want something flexible so you can fit employment around your family commitments. Where will you go to retrain, upskill, co-work or look for a job?
Would you, for instance, approach the flexible-working rock stars Digital Mums? Maybe you’d go to Tech Pixies which, according to its website, “helps women boost their confidence with social media and WordPress.” If you’ve got a professional background, maybe you’ll knock on the door of Women Returners and see if you can get a returnship? If you fancy setting up your own business or try freelancing, perhaps the co-working opportunities offered by Mumming Club would be right for you?
I could go on with various other examples, but I think I’ve probably demonstrated my point. On the surface, there isn’t a great deal of support for SAHDs and other male caregivers who want to return to the workforce (note I say “on the surface”).
It’s not all about the early years in a child’s life
What worries me is the long-term implications of so little assistance seemingly being available to SAHDs and male caregivers. Over recent years, Government policy and employers have focused on the early years of a child’s life. We’ve seen the introduction of Shared Parental Leave and anyone can request flexible working.
Many large employers have taken steps to either equalise or improve their enhanced parental leave benefits. British Land, Aviva, Diageo, Volvo and even Save The Children have all taken steps to introduce benefits that help new parents balance work and family in the earliest days of a child’s life.
These are all vital steps. It’s no longer a question of whether a man is going to be a hands-on dad, but how hands on he is going to be. These steps have gone a long way to making that a reality.
Nonetheless, the early years are just that: The early years. As children get older, your needs as a parent and family change and the help you require changes too.
Any sensible man thinking of becoming a stay at home dad for a few years might look to the future, realise there was no readily-available support for him to return to the workforce and stick with the status quo: He goes out and works while his female partner does the childcare and domestic stuff. After all, both formal and informal support networks are in place to help her back into the workforce, they don’t exist for him.
Things are better than they seem
I’ve done a bit of research. In reality things are not what they seem. I thought the outlook was all doom and gloom but having approached several organisations operating in this field, it seems we’re on the cusp of some pretty major change.
There is a lot more support available than you might imagine and more is steadily becoming available. There is, however, a “but”: Much of the support is hidden away thanks largely to poor marketing. Here’s what I have unearthed.
Let’s take a look at Successful Mums. It was established in 2014 after founder Jane Knight couldn’t find flexible work to fit around her family life. It provides coaching to increase confidence and a range of different courses such as business start-up and digital skills training. Over the years it’s helped thousands of people into work from stay at home mums to prison inmates.
To quote Shakespeare, “here’s the rub.” You won’t find any mention of men or dads on the website, but Successful Mums has always been open to men.
In fact, and this is a little bit of an exclusive, sometime in 2020, a Successful Dads website is going to go live. This is just one example of an organisation that has accepted the workforce is changing and is embracing that change.
A further example comes in the form of Digital Mums. Digital Mums was established in 2014 to address the issue of post-maternity unemployment. Women receive training in social media management and historically the training courses were simply not open to men. The company was and continues to be supremely successful and time and again I have seen Digital Mums held-up as the gold-standard in helping mums back in to work.
Lo and behold, Digital Mums has diversified. In addition to its social media courses, it is running training for people who want to work freelance and training courses about modern workplaces and, yes, you guessed it, its courses have been opened up to men. I’m told men have only participated in tiny numbers, but a small number of Digital Dads walk among us, quietly going about their business.
What about freelance opportunities?
As I was putting this article together, I was, out of the blue, contacted by Lauren Roberts who runs Mumming Club, a London-based co-working facility that also provides a creche. Lauren had made an IGTV video asking whether Mumming Club was excluding fathers. She wanted opinions on whether it should be opened up to guys. I hardly need to tell you what my response was.
It seems that Lauren has embraced the need for change as the venture is going to be renamed Parent Village. Lauren said, and I quote: “I just need more dads to come along!”
If you a dad based in South West London, the opportunity is there for you. It’s an open door, so walk through it, there’s not even any need to knock.
Dads seeking work
I cannot write this post without mentioning WorkingDads.co.uk, a website set up to meet the needs of men looking for flexible job opportunities (declaration of interest: I am a contributor to its blog). It’s a ‘sister’ site to the long-established WorkingMums.co.uk.
WorkingDads.co.uk has to be one of, if not the, most public and obvious attempt to appeal to men who are seeking to balance work and family life. It’s early days for the site, but it’s built on strong foundations. It has a leadership team with expertise in this area. They understood a job-seeking site of this kind was needed to appeal to the increasing number of guys seeking to work flexibly and they got in early and set one up.
Could the marketing be better?
I once again want you to imagine you’re that stay at home dad who wants to return to the workforce. The opportunities for you to retrain or work freelance exist, but you probably don’t know about them.
Are you even going to pick up the phone or email an organisation with “mum” or “women” in the title and a website totally devoid of men but full of images of women, some holding babies or drinking coffee with their mum friends? You’re probably going to assume it’s a futile exercise.
Let’s turn the tables for a moment. How many women are going to attend Big Scary Tony’s Toxic Masculinity Training Course? I think we can safely assume the answer is zero.
Yes, okay, I was being facetious by dragging the fictitious Big Scary Tony and his fictitious training course in to this but there’s an important point to be made. There are plenty of opportunities for guys but they are hidden away and poorly marketed. It’s largely a legacy issue because historically it was almost exclusively women who needed this kind of help.
I must stress that I am not, for one second, suggesting women don’t need support to get back in to the workforce after a period of absence. They most certainly do and I wouldn’t want to see it reduced in any way.
Nonetheless, families and workplaces are changing. The needs of employees and employers are changing.
The anecdotal evidence available to us suggests more guys are taking on the main caregiving role at home. As we’re living longer, it’s inevitable more guys will also end up taking time out of the workforce to care for older relatives in addition to being more involved with their children.
Women’s need for flexible working, retaining and returnships is well established and recognised. Men’s need for flexi-working, retraining and upskilling is not as well recognised but it is growing and it’s going to increase.
There is a growing market here. I don’t know whether the answer is for existing service providers to rebrand and change their approach so they are open to male caregivers, or whether they should set-up off shoots dedicated to serving the men’s market. Whatever the answer, it’s those training, upskilling, co-working and recruitment specialists who recognise the existence of male caregivers and take steps to help them back into the workforce who profit from it.
Of course if anyone trying to meet that need is called Tony, I would advise him to think carefully about the name he gives his business. Think very carefully indeed.