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Gender diversity requires a focus on the men

My dad was a stay-at-home dad in the 70s. Did it give me an advantage? Did it give me confidence in the co-ed school yard or an extra edge as I climbed the ladder in a male-dominated industry? It sure didn't hurt. Forty years on and my husband is a stay-at-home dad for our two beautiful daughters.

I am one of the 'lucky' three per cent of working Mums (two-parent households) in Australia who have what Annabel Crabb labels, a 'wife'.

Given the desire in Australia's business community to have greater diversity in the workforce, there needs to be a greater balancing of responsibilities in the household, an increase in the engagement of external carers (so lower fees or higher wages or subsidies) or, an increase in the number of stay-at-home dads.

What do we need to do to encourage more of them?

If we really want to affect change, we have to focus on the men as much as we do the women, potentially even more so.

A young Karina Keisler and her father

Family matters

Having grown up the middle child in a two-parent family where both parents had worked and both had spent time at home managing the household, I don't consider my husband's choice to be a stay-at-home dad extraordinary – not to be confused with considering him extraordinary; I do, but that's another story. 

In short, it appears I caught one of the good fish who likes to cook, wields the Dyson like a light sabre and keeps the kids on a tight rein. In fact, my only complaint, now that I'm used to his man-cleaning, is that he prefers to shop multiple times a week "on an as-needs basis" and won't tolerate my need to stock the cupboard with staples nor my interest in online grocery shopping... the only exception being Dan Murphy's.

It hasn't always been like this. In the early years he did some cleaning (no bathrooms), vacuuming, and we shared cooking duties.

He made lunches while I did hair and supervised dressing. Fast forward a few years, and he does grocery shopping, the bulk of the cleaning and the cooking. He no longer grumbles when I run out the door and leave him to school preparations.

Homework is his; they're on their own for projects. After school appointments his, same with play dates. Parent-teacher interviews are shared.

Saturday mornings are mine for myself, Saturday arvos are his. Sundays are ours. We're partners.

Unfortunately, for most working women this is not the case.

In fact, the data shows that stay-at-home fathers do take on more responsibility for childcare than fathers in other family forms, but that the average stay-at-home dad is still far from "Mr Mum". 

Child-care activities by family type

Figure 1: Sharing of specific childcare arrangements, by family employment arrangement

Each of the specific activities in the above graphic are most often done always or usually by the mother, or shared between mothers and fathers.

It is uncommon for childcare activities to be done always or usually by the father.

When comparing childcare activities by parents in different types of families we see that, in stay-at-home-father families, it is more likely that activities are done always or usually by the father. 

This is especially so for staying home with sick children and for ferrying children to and from places.

So, if we are truly going to change the number of women in the workforce, we need greater support from the men in our lives, which apparently is most likely if dad is at home, and the workforce needs to be more supportive of men wanting to step out of the rat race onto the rollercoaster of stay-at-home childcare. 

Among a range of initiatives to drive greater diversity of thought and championship teams at NBN Co, we have introduced paid parental leave for primary carers of children for both men and women for 18 weeks, we have increased paid support leave to 10 days, and we have introduced work 4 get paid 5 for the first 6 months upon return to work after parental leave. 

We have seen a strong uptake as more males take time out to be primary carer. There is so much more to be done and the team continues to improve its support for equal choices and opportunities for men and women. 

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