bulle BTS Assistant de Gestion PMI-PMI 2007

Is it possible both to impress the boss and be an attentive father ?

by Rafael Behr

Why does it have to be a choice? Why can't we have it all?

Some of us are at least trying. I work part-time. I spend time with my wife - who is on maternity leave until later this year - and Edie, our daughter.

We are definitely a minority. Men are now in the position that women were in 10 years ago, torn between the office and home. Despite all that is said about men and women sharing the burden more equally, in a lot of jobs putting in a seven-and-a-half-hour day then going home and looking after children is still a recipe for getting fired.

Since the1970s, Britain has liberalised its labour laws, making hiring and firing cheaper and easier for employers. It has also absorbed thousands of women into the workforce to compete with men.

One unintended consequence is that everyone feels less secure due to the shadow of redundancy. Another side-effect is that the labour market prefers young, newly qualified people to older more experienced ones who cost more. This undermines the traditional idea of career progression. That's why people in their twenties and thirties should really be taking their leisure and family dividend when they can afford it.

The idea is starting to dawn on some men. But it is a risky idea. The evidence from women's experience of trying to integrate a bit of full-time parenting into a life of work is not encouraging. According to the Equal Opportunities Commission, a woman who has worked part-time for just a year suffers, on average, a 10 per cent long-term reduction in earnings compared to a woman who has stayed in continuous full-time employment .

Not surprising, men, usually the main earners, do not often feel comfortable telling their bosses their priorities have changed. Around one in five British fathers take up the statutory right to two weeks' paid paternity leave. A survey of those that don't found out that 41 per cent said they couldn't afford to. 23 per cent didn't realise they were entitled to time off. 21 per cent were afraid their employers would make their lives difficult if they advertised their new priorities.

It's up to us to change our culture, take time off for schoolplays, and go home early for bedtime stories, to take the maximum paternity leave available and demand more. The age at which we tend to have kids - mostly early thirties - is also the point at which we have most value in the labour market, which means we can negotiate our terms from a position of strength. The dads I know don't want careers, we just want a job and a life, and we want to have them at the same time

Adapted from the Observer, Sunday June 11, 2006