Celebrating Fathers on International Men’s Day

Each year, 19th November is International Men's Day. The UK themes for the Day are:

  • Making a positive difference to the well-being and lives of men and boys
  • Promoting a positive conversation about men, manhood, and masculinity
  • Raising awareness and/or funds for charities supporting men and boys' wellbeing

Listening to Fathers

One of the positive conversations we can all have about men right now is the way that many fathers have found opportunities for more involvement in home life. And how many dads are now looking for a better work-life balance. The past 20 months or so have presented many challenges, among them work-life craziness for parents of all genders when care settings and schools were closed. 

Now, as hybrid working becomes part of everyday working culture (where roles permit) there is much talk about the gendered impact of covid. One voice to amplify here is that of dads who are fully involved at home. The Fatherhood Institute published research with over 2,000 dads on their lockdown experiences. Essentially, the study found many fathers did more housework, caregiving, and education than before. Like everyone, they struggled at times in balancing it all. They also valued the experience, found it enhanced their parenting and their wellbeing. Three-quarters (76%) of those fathers who were full-time at home during lockdown said they'd like more flexible working, and nearly two-thirds (63%) would like more home-working in the future.

Similarly, in Bright Horizons' own Modern Families Index annual reports published post Covid, they consistently find that many more fathers do more childcare with a large majority wishing to continue doing so. 

There is also strong evidence that fathers are actively weighing up care responsibilities in their career plans. With many considering childcare options before accepting or applying for either a promotion or a new job.

We need to be talking more about this, whether as couples (of whatever blend) or at work because there is clearly a movement going on.

Missing Paternity Leave

Against this context of more involvement, it is concerning that take up of paternity leave has dropped. According to HMRC figures from March 2022, just 204,000 fathers claimed paternity leave in the year 2021-22. This compares to 213,500 men who took paternity leave between March 2017 and March 2018.

As well as making sure that any conversations about flexible working include men (whether or not they are fathers) we also need to keep supporting fathers to take time out when they start or expand, a family. Sharing parenting in the early stages has many benefits for couples, and for families, including better educational outcomes for children

Caring Across Life Stages

The Modern Families Index also asked about adult and eldercare responsibilities. It emerged that just under a quarter (22%) have a caring responsibility for an adult or elder and for many it is a big concern during a career transition. Over three-quarters (77%) of those with eldercare responsibilities consider eldercare support before accepting a new job or promotion (75% in both 2021 and 2022).

To attract and retain the best of the sandwich generation, smart employers need to consider eldercare provision.

What Will You Do?

Under 'How to Mark IMD in 2022' there's a section called: 'You can celebrate men and boys in all their hairy diversity'. I'm glad they wrote that rather than me, as I might have imagined that was patronising.

But it got me thinking. What will I actually do? One of the suggestions on the IMD page is 'sending an International Men's Day message or card to the important men in your life who you want to acknowledge - a relative, friend, neighbour, colleague or partner'. 

I will. I'll do that. I'll send them to my sons. They are both taller than me now, and one of them is indeed rather hairy. What I want to acknowledge to them is they are part of a generation that fills me with hope, actually; especially when it comes to gender equality. 

They just don't carry the same old prejudices or stereotypes about 'men' and 'women'. And, they have the same ability as the somewhat older Andy Murray to come up with the dry, put-down reminder when someone makes an assumption that drives a wedge between men and women, or mothers and fathers. 


Jennifer Liston-Smith is Head of Thought Leadership with Bright Horizons

For over 20 years, Jennifer has been relentless in pursuit of innovation, identifying, defining, and sharing best practices and 'next practice' for leading global employers in flexible working, family-friendly, and wellbeing programmes, closing the gender pay gap, and promoting gender-inclusive parenting. She is a sought-after speaker, writer, conference moderator, and consultant on these topics, and more.