04 May Guest Blog: Dan Godsall
In November 2014 I made a momentous decision: to quit my job as Managing Director at Barclays, and take some time out as a stay-at-home dad to my then six month old son, Jesse.
As an older dad (forty six this year) it had been on my mind that I wanted more time with my son. Living in Southampton, where my wife, Kate, is an academic at Southampton University, meant a four hour daily commute into work. The early mornings have never bothered me, but arriving home at 8:00pm after a long day at the office, meant I wasn’t getting the time with Jesse that I wanted. Nor was I able to fully support my wife in raising our son, which I knew would have implications for her energy levels, and therefore her career. Although I was main bread winner, Kate’s career is as important to her as mine was to me, and it didn’t seem fair that she would have to shoulder the burden as Jesse’s principal care giver.
And so, taking the opportunity of one of the regular restructures at work, in December 2014 I packed my bags and said farewell to Canary Wharf without any plans for the future. The timing was perfect for us as a family as Kate was returning to work in January, and as her maternity leave finished I was able to step in and take over at home.
It was an amazing and challenging experience. I knew that looking after a baby was demanding, but had no real sense of how hard it was. For the first two months I felt as though I was just about surviving, but gradually I developed my own routine and things got a little easier. I felt like I knew what I was doing, and Jesse and I bonded in a way that I never anticipated. Today that bond means that my wife and I are equal partners in raising our boy.
There are so few stay-at-home dads and being lonely isn’t a good option so I became friendly with the mums from our NCT group. They were an amazing and generous group of women. Without that network of support I don’t think the experience would have been so great.
Around four months into my time off my female friends all started going back to work, and I noticed a remarkable similarity in how they were thinking and feeling about their return: feelings of guilt about leaving their child in the care of others; loss of confidence in their ability to perform at work; and anxiety about necessary flexible working requests, and how they might cope with their dual roles as mothers and committed workers.
When I asked them what support their employer was providing to help them deal with these personal and professional challenges, the responses were stark: in every case these women were expected to resume their professional lives without any real consideration by their employer for the effect that a prolonged absence from work and parenthood was having on their employees.
This seemed illogical to me, especially as I had personally benefited from an amazing outplacement programme upon my departure from work. How could it be that employers could be so generous with their support of leavers, but do so little for essential and committed returners?
These observations, and the subsequent research I’ve done with men and women from all walks of life, have led me down a new path in life. In September of 2015, I decided to start a business dedicated to helping employers do a better job of supporting new parents through their transitions out of and back into the workplace. The commercial benefits were obvious to me: more people returning and staying, and a happier, more engaged, and productive work force.
Today I work with businesses from a range of different sectors, offering training and coaching support for new parents through their transitions that helps build resilience, restore confidence, and gives them practical strategies and tools for achieving some kind of balance in their new lives. And we work with managers too, raising their awareness of the important role they play in helping employees leave and return successfully, and equipping them with new skills for handling sensitive conversations.
At the moment the main benefactors of our work are mothers. Despite changes in statute and legislation, women still shoulder the burden of child care in the UK and most developed countries around the world. Although we are seeing a small increase in the number of men taking extended paternity leave and adopting flexible work patterns, this change in identity for fathers is happening slowly, and most business cultures have a long way to go to make it feel safe for men to participate in the raising of their children in the way that many now crave.
As long as this remains the case it’s hard to see how we’re ever going to achieve a fair and equal society for women. Without men being encouraged to step up and take a lead role in the raising of their children, it is likely that the barriers to women’s advancing their careers will continue to exist.
It is for this reason, amongst others, that I am personally so passionate about the Male Champions for Change initiative that we’re launching at the Women’s Leadership Network Conference. Without the participation of more male senior leaders from the academic and business world, the pace of change in achieving gender equality is too slow. If we are truly committed to the ideals of fairness and equality for all, the roles of both women and men need to be re-examined and re-imagined, and men need to be as much a part of that discussion as women do.
When Jesse reaches the age where he and his partner start to think about becoming parents, I hope we live in a world where both of them, whatever their gender or sexuality, feel as equal and as relevant in their roles as parents as my wife and I do. And through the Male Champions for Change initiative, I hope that we’ve played a part in laying the ground work for that to be a reality.