The Foreign Office was buzzing today, hosting TEDxWhitehallWomen: one member of staff told me how counter-intuitive it was to have people singing in the usually straight-laced, formal, gilded surroundings. I have such fond memories of the people I worked with in Whitehall when I was a Minister, so doing my first TEDx talk in Whitehall felt homely, despite the imposing environment.
The topic of TEDxWhitehallWomen is ‘time’. My message today is to let dads have the time to be dads.
Men sharing parenting responsibility more equally with women benefits everyone in society. When I was in Government I legislated to introduce Shared Parental Leave. Now, our challenge is to break down the cultural barriers that prevent men taking up the leave.
So many structures in our society drum in the message that parenting is about motherhood. We need to let that go and embrace the role of dads as well – not as the ‘fun weekend parent’ - but as every bit as important as mums.
Other speakers at TEDxWhitehallWomen spoke about seizing the present moment, and not waiting to make a positive change. I believe that the time to make this change is now – because time with dads has an amazing impact on children.
When dads are heavily involved in parenting, children develop better social and language skills, enjoy better mental health and do better at school. Fathers who are close to their children are healthier, happier and more productive at work. And when men share care more equally, boys grow up more positive about gender equality and girls feel more empowered.
If my TEDx talk causes a family to re-think their expectations on sharing parenting, or an employer to re-consider how they treat fathers, then it has been time well spent, and absolutely an idea worth sharing.