EDITORIAL: Men at work ... and men at home

EDITORIAL: Men at work ... and men at home - Suma Chakrabati is an unlikely trailblazer. The high-flying senior civil servant from the Department for International Development created a stir last year when it was revealed he had negotiated a child-friendly employment contract with his boss Clare Short that enabled him to have breakfast with his six-year-old daughter each day and attend her school assembly once a fortnight.

by Matthew Gwyther, editor
Last Updated: 31 Aug 2010

Suma Chakrabati is an unlikely trailblazer. The high-flying senior civil servant from the Department for International Development created a stir last year when it was revealed he had negotiated a child-friendly employment contract with his boss Clare Short that enabled him to have breakfast with his six-year-old daughter each day and attend her school assembly once a fortnight.

The prime minister was entirely supportive of Ms Short - how things change - and his official spokesman commented: 'I don't think the indicator of performance is necessarily the amount of time you spend in your office with your jacket over the back of the chair - it is about what you deliver.' (I'll wager Cherie Blair has a thing or two to say about the number of hours her husband's jacket is over the back of that Number 10 hot seat at the moment.)

In Chakrabati we have '21st-century dad' staring us in the face, and not everyone likes what they see. Work/life balance was a legitimate concern for women to worry about and to request a degree of flexibility on when it came to workplace hours - but men? One study that made use of a dummy request for unpaid childcare leave discovered that employers were more likely to reject the attempt if it was thought to come from a man. A leading British headhunter quoted in Adrienne Burgess' book Fatherhood Reclaimed said that a request for flexible working, although tolerated from women, would be the 'kiss of death' to a career if it came from a man.

With the Government dipping its toe in the waters of pro-father employment legislation this month, our Fathers and Sons research and cover feature makes no excuses for looking exclusively at men and how their work/life balance is going. We hope that this subject is, by its very nature, of intrinsic interest to women, as well.

The picture is a complex and varied one, and it is not without hope. There have been big changes in both attitude and behaviour with regard to parenthood among working men over the past 25 years. Whereas fewer than 50% of British families had dual earners as recently as 1983, that figure is now approaching 70%. Amid a good deal of juggling anguish, there are rising numbers of contented fathers out there.

For those of our readers, male and female, who think 'enough already with all the blokes - where are the women this month in MT?', be patient. Our popular '35 Women Under 35' feature returns next month - a survey of the creme de la creme of younger female senior managers in the UK. If you know someone who should be selected for this man-free Pantheon, send us an e-mail: management.today@haynet.com.

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