Diaper poop. The unavoidable “clean up on aisle me” part of parenthood that’s a mere blip on the radar amid the daily laundry list of new-parent to-dos that most certainly includes laundry.
While few parents sign up for the job with illusions of doody-free grandeur, most go into it with the hopes that they’ll at least have a division of labor when it comes to this, and the countless other tasks that go into raising a child.
It shouldn’t surprise anyone that trying to successfully raise a well-adjusted human solo presents a myriad of challenges, as they have often been chronicled and seem obvious to most. From navigating school pick-ups and drop-offs, preparing meals, helping with homework, acting as the emotional rock when teens are being teens and so much more, being a single parent breadwinner in today’s society is no walk in the park (another thing they likely don’t have time for).
That said, many people jump to the conclusion that when we talk about the single-working parent we are referencing a mother. And perhaps with good reason as that’s the scenario for roughly 8.7 million moms out there according to the latest U.S. Census Bureau stats.
What’s often overlooked, however, is that 2.2 million fathers are in the same boat (that’s the population of Houston proper, FWIW), and while single dads face many of the same challenges that single moms face, it’s time we bring to light some of the unique challenges they do face, in particular when it comes to navigating the workplace.
“We make all sorts of assumptions because we don’t have the courage to ask questions.”
“We make all sorts of assumptions because we don’t have the courage to ask questions.”
What we assume to be true about certain groups of people colors our perceptions of them, and once our perceptions are ingrained in our minds, it can take a herculean effort to shift course.
Fortunately, the good folks at SHRM had the courage to ask a few questions to single fathers back in 2021 so that we could start making the difficult transition from assumption to understanding. What they found was:
The statistics above paint a very clear picture that single dads face a lot of the same obstacles that single moms face (note: this is not meant to ignore the very real obstacles and discriminations that single moms face that most fathers don’t), but there isn’t much data on single fathers out there today, which in and of itself tells the story of how often they are overlooked.
In a Social Sciences study on custodial single fathers’ experience during the pandemic, author Aimzhan Iztayeva states that working fathers and childless individuals are often believed to be “ideal workers” who have more time to prioritize their jobs. Even though that perception is changing, it still lingers in many companies’ C-suites and hurts both working moms and single dads— where a dad’s focus on their children changed how they were perceived in the workplace.
“Custodial fathers no longer fit that ideal,” she says.
What’s more, a 2018 study by sociologist Jurgita Abromaviciute found that single moms’ status as breadwinners spared them from the prejudice partnered moms faced from employers who paid them less out of fear that they wouldn’t be as dedicated to their job.
That’s the scientific way of saying those employers are diaper poop, btw.
Surprisingly, however, her study found that single dads’ caregiving responsibilities made them less attractive than partnered dads in the workplace.
That’s the scientific way of saying those employers are diaper poop too, btw.
The assumptions about being a single dad are born beyond the walls (virtual or otherwise) of the workplace, from assuming they can’t be as nurturing as a mother, to assuming they’re the one with visitation rights, to not needing a support system.
What can be done to show dynamite dads that we hear them and we’re here for them?
Communication & Inclusivity
We don’t need to tell you that language is important. What you say and how you say it can make or break a working relationship. For example, if you’re hosting a work event try saying “+1s welcome” instead of “bring your spouse.”
While that seems like an easy change to make (good, there’s no excuse), others might require a bit more effort. Managers for example can do wonders in making a single dad feel supported simply by not assuming (there’s that word again) that they won’t be interested in overtime, stretch assignments, or more responsibilities.
The beauty is that this is sound advice for both single moms and single dads. As Marika Lindholm, founder of the solo mother online community ESME puts it, “It’s really about sensitivity to the juggling act, and not pretending that it doesn’t exist.” Open and honest dialogue is key, so ask the questions directly and make your people feel supported.
Another communication element that is often overlooked revolves around benefits. What sort of language are you using in your benefits? Do you offer benefits that allow single dads to feel supported, included and able to take time off work without negative repercussions?
If you aren’t sure, now might be a good time to…
Do a thorough benefits check
The number-one benefit a single dad finds vital is childcare support. Some organizations are able to provide childcare support on-site, however, most single dads aren’t afforded that luxury, and find it difficult to bear the cost of childcare on a single income regardless.
HR professionals do have some options when it comes to supporting single parents in this capacity, ranging from partnering with nearby daycare facilities for discounts to implementing dependent care assistance programs (DCAPs) in which a parent would be able to deduct daycare expenses from their paychecks on a pre-tax basis. Offering flexible spending accounts are another way to support this.
Discrimination toward single dads in the workplace is more common than you’d think, and the shame associated with going to HR can be enough to keep them quiet. Solutions like Speakfully offer employees a safe, anonymous and supportive way to speak up when they feel they’re being discriminated against.
Mental health chatter has been abuzz in the wake of COVID19, and in a study on Prevalence of Psychiatric Disorder in Lone Fathers and Mothers, researchers found that 33.6% of lone fathers had one or more disorders of depression, panic disorder, specific phobia, obsessive– compulsive disorder, and generalized anxiety disorder, compared with 13.3% of partnered fathers, 28.4% of lone mothers, and 16.0% of partnered mothers.
Single parents often feel stretched too thin, and the feeling of loneliness and isolation can be too much to bear over long periods of time. Expanding Employee Assistance Programs (EAPs), providing mental health expense coverage, and developing Mental Health Employee Resource Groups (MHRGs) are great ways to ensure you’re providing the resources to keep your people supported, healthy and engaged in the workplace.
Enhancing your leave of absence policies can do wonders for a single dad. A child’s medical emergency can be one of the most emotionally taxing experiences a parent can go through. Make sure your policies reflect that a single dad can take the time necessary to support his family in this time of need. They don’t have a backup, and a single parent often can’t afford to be without a paycheck.
Further, make sure their leave experience is a positive one. We here at Tilt would be happy to review your leave policies and see where you could improve to help support your people better. We also make the leave experience for your employees a dream during their most challenging times.
Focus on Flexibility
Now more than ever, single parents (dads and moms) face scheduling challenges the likes of which prior generations didn’t have to navigate. Why would you operate your business with the rigid framework of prior generations and expert employee satisfaction? A single dad should feel comfortable bringing their child into the office when necessary due to unforeseen schedule shifts. A single dad should feel welcome and supported to get their work done in a time that enables him to be there for his family when they need him.
Making your office space suitable for single dads is another way to make them feel supported and valued. Push for non-gendered family bathrooms in your building if none exist, or have baby-changing stations installed in male bathrooms.
Many organizations have learned that working from home is actually good for business, and single-parent employees are relishing in the positively life-altering flexibility doing so provides. If your office was running on all cylinders during the pandemic, ensuring that a single parent can continue this work-life arrangement can make or break their employment experience and be the difference between an engaged employee and one who is breaking down from the pressures of raising their family on their own while being confined to an office.
Hire and promote more single parents
The absolute best way to support a single dad is to hire one and not factor in their caregiving responsibilities outside of work when it’s time to consider promotions. The always-available “ideal worker” is an outdated perspective that should be thrown in the trash alongside dirty diapers.
We all have caregiving responsibilities, even if it’s to care for ourselves and our mental health. We all have lives outside of work that should be respected and protected. When companies hire through the “ideal worker” lens it’s unfair for everyone, but undoubtedly hurts single parents the most.
There is much we can do to make single dads feel supported, respected and empowered to contribute equally to the workplace and their home life. So while triaging a diaper poop disaster might be an inevitability, offering a path to a successful and rewarding career will have them coming out smelling like roses.
Tilt is leading the charge in all things leave of absence management through easy-to-use tech and human touch. Since 2017, our proprietary platform and Empathy Warriors have been helping customers make leave not suck by eliminating administrative burdens, keeping companies compliant, and providing a truly positive and supportive leave of absence experience for their people.
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