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Can you change things for women if you don’t change things for men?

This question has been on my mind a lot over the last couple of weeks. As I mentioned at the end of my first blog, I am embarking on a journey. I have a big ambition - to drive change for working parents and women in leadership in the UK. But where to start?

My first step (aside from the blogs) has been research. To identify what data is out there already, who’s doing what. As part of this exercise I learnt of an inquiry by the Women & Equalities Committee. They were asking "Are we failing fathers in the workplace?".

Whilst preparing my submission, I found myself spending a lot of time thinking about one of my favourite hypotheses which is: you won’t change things for women, unless you change things for men.

Why do I feel so strongly about this? One of the biggest influences was a conversation I had with a colleague, and very good friend, when I was setting up Parents@Sky. And it’s stuck with me ever since.

He led a large marketing team so it probably won't surprise you when I say a big proportion of them were women. We had had our first child within a month of each other so were at the same life stage. He told me he felt there were "double standards" when it came to how dads were treated compared to mums. He said he felt perfectly comfortable with the mums in his team coming in late or leaving early for drop off / pick up but felt it was hard for him to do the same. He's not the only man who's shared this view with me which again I’m sure won’t surprise you.

This just served to reinforce my instinct to focus on parents not just mums and ensure we engaged men in the Women in Leadership Initiative.

Whenever you ask for views on what holds women back a chunk of people will tell you it's lack of flexibility, a lack of support for mums, and the “motherhood penalty". The “fatherhood penalty” is a very new term by comparison. As Sheryl Sandberg highlighted (and I’m sure many others), no-one questions "how does HE do it all?” But shouldn’t we?

When it becomes as common for men to take extended leave when they have a child or come in late after drop off - or frankly anyone to work flexibly whether they have a child or not - it will cease to be a female issue, and wouldn’t that be better for everyone?

There are trailblazers out there. I was fortunate enough to hear from some yesterday. I was a speaker at Omnicom’s annual Omniwomen Leadership Summit and was hugely impressed not just by the progress they have made (48% of their senior roles are now held by women) but by the male champions leading by example, taking extended leave.

It has to start somewhere and I sense the momentum is gathering.

Does anyone else have examples of male leaders or organisations leading the way on this? I’d love to hear your experiences.


For those interested, here’s a link to the Women & Equalities Committee Inquiry:

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