A toddler is held by his father during a Sure Start meeting organised by the Paddington Development Trust (PDT) for local parents in Queen's Park, North Paddington, London.
A toddler is held by his father

Fathers sometimes face their own glass ceiling in the workplace according to a study by Professor Jennifer Berdahl of the University of Toronto’s Rotman School of Management in Canada. The study shows that middle-class men who take on non-traditional care-giving roles – such as spending more time at home to look after children – are treated worse than men who stick closer to gender norms.

“The men reported being teased about not being tough enough; not ‘man enough,’ for example,” says Prof Berdahl. Ultimately, they are implicitly discouraged from taking advantage of the flexible working opportunities increasingly on offer to all employees globally, she adds. Women without children and mothers with non-traditional care-giving arrangements meanwhile are treated worst of all.

The results are based on two separate field surveys – one with unionised workers in female-dominated organisations and one with public service workers in a male-dominated workforce. In both cases, harassment was reported, suggesting both men and women are still tied to traditional beliefs.

“The workplace seems to be a domain where we are penalising men and women who don’t adopt traditional domestic roles,” says Prof Berdahl. Furthermore, what she calls “face-time”, showing your face in the office, is still seen as vital. She says there is evidence to show people get passed over for promotion if not present enough in the office, even if they work the same hours.

Prof Berdhal remains hopeful that these attitudes will change over time, even though she believes some of those who are making fathers’ lives difficult are unaware of the difficulties they are causing.. “I think it will improve as we get more used to the idea of men looking after the children and women being the breadwinners,” she says.

For now, Prof Berdhal thinks the situation should be brought to the attention of management who should then place more emphasis on work performance. Instead of using proxies for assessing how dedicated employees are and unconsciously preferring those who spend more time in the office, she says, “employers should look at how their employees have already performed”.

The study was co-authored with Sue Moon from the Long Island University Post College of Management and will be published in the Journal of Social Issues.


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