"Why men need to speak up on gender equality"
We talk to Dan Reed, Head of Digital and Platform Delivery at Barclays, about his experiences as a young working dad, his “crusade” to tackle the myth that having a successful career has to come at the expense of your family – and why men need to speak up on gender equality.
“When my son was born, I realised there was a lot of bravado among dads – a lot of alpha male ‘I haven’t slept in seven years’ type thing. But what about the guy who hasn’t slept for two nights and is really struggling – and now feels like he can’t speak up about it?”
As the founder of a blog and podcast dedicated to exploring working fatherhood, Dan Reed, Head of Digital and Platform Delivery at Barclays in Northampton, UK, has spent a lot of time thinking about moments like this. When his second child, a daughter, was born last year, he says the challenge of trying to have the best of both worlds became even more apparent.
“I went on paternity leave for three weeks, which was lovely,” he remembers. “I was a little more comfortable second time around, and while I continued to support my wife as best I could, I realised there is only so much you can do to help if you’re not the primary caregiver.
“I sent messages to members of my team asking how presentations or projects went but was met with responses like, ‘You shouldn’t be worried about this now’ or even, ‘Get your priorities straight’.”
I thought, I can’t be the only guy who wants a rewarding and successful career but not at the expense of their family, can I?
Head of Digital and Platform Delivery at Barclays
Dan resented the fact that, in order to be seen as a ‘good dad’, there was an expectation that he should totally switch off from work – from a job that brings him personal satisfaction and happiness. “Mental stimulation is just as important to me as my family is,” he says. “If you just turn off one of those taps, it really impacts my mental health.”
At the same time, he also found himself grappling with more old-fashioned ideas. “If I think about my dad’s generation, he instilled in me that if you want to have a career, you have to sacrifice your family,” he explains. “I was on the receiving end of that growing up and when I became a father, that just didn’t sit well with me.”
Work hard, parent hard
Curious about whether other working fathers were feeling similarly conflicted, Dan posted a video on LinkedIn. “I thought, I can’t be the only guy who wants a rewarding and successful career but not at the expense of their family, can I?” he says.
“I asked if anyone else felt like this and if we could benefit from creating some sort of community. The response was phenomenal.”
Before long, Dan had built a website, Career Dad – “a community for dads balancing work with family” – and a podcast series, ‘The Career Dad Show’, in which guests explore work, family and the highs and lows of being a working father.
Dan says he’s tapped into an audience that is largely uncatered for. “One of the big questions I get is, ‘Why are you doing this for dads when mums need it so much more?’ But there is so much more out there for mums. In fact, there are thought to be over 2.1 million mum blogs worldwide and fewer than 200 for dads. There’s just so much space to be occupied.”
Far from taking away from the needs of mothers, he says his efforts are focused squarely on advocating for greater equality between working parents.
“There’s an underlying societal acceptance that dads shouldn’t be equal or primary caregivers to their children,” he says. “You hear it when people make comments to dads who are out with their kids about ‘giving mum a break’, and there’s still stigma around being a stay-at-home dad. But if we don’t bring men along on the journey, we’re not going to get equality. If the passive expectation is that mums will ‘run the house’, how can women ever be as successful in progressing their careers?
“This kind of stigma affects dads too: they worry about how they’ll be perceived if they leave the office to pick the kids. If men feel comfortable in being more active – which all the surveys point to them saying they want to be – that takes pressure off women, removing one of the major barriers to gender equality. What I’m doing is about supporting women, just not directly.”
“A crusade to help dads find better balance”
Dan, who has a background in digital marketing, says he’s been impressed by his employer’s attitude towards working life.
“I worked in recruitment, as well as at small one-man-band companies and large, global corporations – but I never found my fit. It was only after being made redundant that I eventually found my place at Barclaycard,” he explains.
“As soon as I joined, I discovered just how nice and welcoming people are. They’ve allowed me to try things and helped me find my own progression and my own place.”
Starting the podcast alongside a senior full-time job has made being a working dad of two just that little bit harder. Asked how he manages, Dan laughs and admits: “It’s funny because I’m on a crusade to help dads find better balance and then my wife is sat there saying, ‘You know you could do with listening to your own podcast sometimes.’”
I am incredibly competitive, but mainly with myself. I used to look at my friends and rank where I sat amongst them and use that as validation of whether I was successful or not. Later on, I realised how ridiculous that is. If I focus on being better than someone else, when I do I’ve actually lost. Because what then? Whereas if I focus on continual self-improvement, it pushes me to constantly be and do better.
Single parents: I have nothing but admiration for them. Every once in a while my wife will go on a girls’ weekend away or a hen party or whatever, and there’s just me and the kids for 48 hours. I am so tired by the end of it… and that’s over a weekend! How single parents hold down jobs and do everything by themselves is just amazing.
It doesn’t mean treating people the same, because that’s dangerous. It means treating them fairly – and if we don’t bring men along on the journey, we’re not going to get equality. If, when a child is sick, the school immediately calls their mum, they’re reinforcing that underlying presumption that men cannot be primary caregivers. While that continues, how can women advance in the workplace? Organisations need to enable dads to be primary caregivers.
One of the things I’m most passionate about is flexible working – this could mean working from home or setting up job shares. Instead of focusing on presenteeism, organisations need to think about what their KPIs look like. We need to trust people to deliver their targets, regardless of what that looks like. If they finish halfway through the day, why not give them some time back?
I see-saw on this. On the one hand, I hate the fact there is international anything day. I talk a lot about mental health, having had therapy myself, and I usually wait a few days until after World Mental Health Day to post about it. I think, like New Year’s resolutions, there shouldn’t be just one day to make a change. But on the flipside, it has given a lot of visibility to women’s issues and has started conversations – we just need those conversations to happen outside of that day alone.
One of the main things for me is the democratization of knowledge and attitudes. I was speaking with a female colleague who felt like she didn’t have enough experience for a new role she wanted to apply for. I told her that if a job says you need 10 skills to apply, women, on average, will apply if they think they have 9 or 10 of those skills. Men, on average, will apply with 6 out of the 10. That encouraged her to apply for the role, which she would not have done otherwise.
Katherine Whitton, ex-Chief Marketing Officer at Barclaycard, showed a great deal of trust and faith in me earlier on in my career, and helped make opportunities available to me that potentially I wasn’t 100% ready for at the time. Ryan Howsam, Chairman of Staysure Insurance, where I had my first “proper” marketing job. I had zero practical experience, and Ryan took a huge gamble on me. If he hadn’t seen something in me, I would have ended up down a completely different path.
One thing he has learnt, though, is the importance of accepting help and prioritising his time. This has meant saying goodbye to downtime – namely Netflix, his Xbox, and hobbies like running and cycling. But despite all of this, Dan revels in his busy schedule.
“I genuinely love it and I don’t feel tired. It actually gives me energy rather than takes it away,” he says.
He is also adamant about making space for family time. “It’s very easy to say, ‘I’ve just got to reply to this’ or ‘I’ve just got to write this article’, so when I’m at home it’s so important to try and really be present,” he says.
If men feel comfortable being more active in their children’s care that takes pressure off women – removing one of the major barriers to gender equality
Head of Digital and Platform Delivery at Barclays
Sacrificing some of his hobbies – and sleep – has proved to be worth it. The podcast has begun to attract parenting influencers as guests and feedback from listeners demonstrates that Dan’s “crusade” has clout.
“I get messages from young dads who say the show has really put things into perspective for them when previously they might have been feeling like they were simultaneously letting their families down and letting their work down. It sounds trite, but I genuinely want to try and help people, so when I get responses like that, it feels like I’ve won.”
Asked about the future of the podcast – and whether it might become a full-time endeavor – Dan is quick to reiterate the title of the show: “I can’t talk about having a career as a dad without having one!”