“Visible” fathers at work, change starts with companies

The bill tabled in the Chamber of Deputies for a three-month paid paternity leave (instead of the current 10 days) has refocused the spotlight on an issue that often remains in the background of public debate: parenthood is also a men’s issue and, if shared, benefits both fathers and mothers.

The last two years have made it even more clear that the right to equal parenting cannot be put off any longer This is demonstrated by the analysis conducted by the Lifeed Work-Life Observatory, according to which working fathers no longer see their professional role as pre-eminent in their lives: indeed, they see themselves as fathers first of all (71%) and only then professionals (42%).

How is all this reflected in the workplace? How can companies harness the life experiences and skills of their workers who are fathers? This was discussed during the Caring Company Digital Talk Fathers’ skills transferred to the workplace promoted by Lifeed and moderated by Chiara Sivieri, Lifeed Customer Executive, through the testimonies of managers from leading companies.

Corporate culture can make fathers more visible

First of all, the question is whether fatherhood is visible in companies today. From an analysis of the reflections of working fathers participating in Lifeed courses, the percentage of fathers who do not consider themselves “visible” in the workplace is still high (57%). This is due to obstacles that, according to the fathers themselves, range from the corporate culture that tends to keep private and work life separate, to the lack of attention to work-life balance by the company, to personal stereotypes.

But there are also enablers that, according to the participants, can ‘ignite’ the potential of fatherhood in the workplace: a ‘caring’ corporate culture that shows attention to work-life balance and people’s roles outside work; a climate of sharing, mutual support, openness to dialogue between colleagues, managers and co-workers on the issue of fatherhood; ad hoc initiatives dedicated to parents; and the self-determination and will of individuals.

The type of company and organisational values are fundamental, together with individual drive, in influencing the visibility of fatherhood in the company. Stefano Angilella, HR Director of Avanade ICEG, is convinced of this. According to him, the company context is the most important element in ensuring that the parenting experience is an asset in terms of skills for the company itself.

Among the many initiatives to support parenthood, Avanade has produced a manifesto mandating compulsory paternity leave: a measure that goes in the direction of fostering gender equality and makes this opportunity structural, to allow the parental experience to be lived in full, side by side with the professional growth path.

The first step is overcoming stereotypes

The path to visibility for fathers is part of a corporate cultural change that, especially in Italy, requires time and the overcoming of stereotypes regarding private and work roles. For Ivan Basilico, Human Resources and Welfare Development of Ferrovie Nord Milano, all those involved (from the State to individuals) must work collectively to overcome the obstacles.

To this end, company measures can be useful, such as those implemented by FNM, which shift the focus from quantity to quality of work, emphasise listening and freedom to talk about care and parenting as something that makes it possible to acquire transverse skills between life and work, flexible working hours, smart working and specific initiatives in favour of parents.

Ruggero Dadamo, Chief People Officer at Sisal, also maintains that it the regulatory aspect is crucial. In the absence of greater support from the state, companies can listen to their employees and make them feel comfortable recounting their own parenting experiences, which can break down cultural stereotypes, creating ‘dad-ambassadors’ in the company.

To accompany employees who are fathers through this cultural change, Sisal has also put in place measures in favour of employees’ children to guide them towards STEM disciplines and to increase their digital skills, as well as specific initiatives to support employees who are parents during the pandemic.

The ‘evolutionary path’ also concerns individuals

Matteo Gori, Global Marketing Director at Barilla, explains that today we are on an ‘evolutionary path’ along which individuals are encouraged to take the initiative and companies can set a virtuous circle in motion. The individual can therefore play a very important role in enabling change and, in this sense, self-determination is crucial.

However, what are the advantages of this outlook in private life and at work? “Parental leave,” says Gori, citing his own personal experience, “helps to balance care burdens, while parenthood makes for better managers who are more curious, with a broad vision, aware that they can experience a healthier separation between private life and work, and realising that they have different priorities.

To make fatherhood a distinctive and positive factor, one must first work on the cultural values of the company. According to Alessandro Mancini, Head of Trade Union Relations and Welfare at Trenord, the HR function has a pivotal role in achieving this and training courses are very important to involve fathers in the implementation of change.

Mancini points out that the phenomenon of low birth rate in Italy is worrying and therefore we need to work on the issue of people’s fear of not being up to the task of parenthood or of losing something else important in their lives by becoming parents. Lasting organisational well-being initiatives can be useful in valuing the uniqueness of each person and ensuring a better balance of care burdens.