Dan Reed has a successful career in the financial services sector as head of platform delivery. He also has two children and especially since the birth of his daughter (his youngest) he felt the lack of somebody offering support to fathers who are somewhat struggling to balance their careers and their caring role. So he went on and created Career Dad. In this podcast conversation we chat about his mission, the types of issues men share on their challenges, what is the link with gender equality and how can employers get in on the issue. Here are a few paragraphs from the conversation, but make sure you listen to the entire conversation.

Agnes Uhereczky: Dan, how did you get started? What drives you?

Dan Reed: I have got a corporate job within the financial services sector with responsibilities as I head a digital platform delivery which is a full-on job. It is not a 9 to 5 job, but that is what I have chosen to do. I realized about 5 or 6 years ago that I was quite a career-driven after thinking I wasn’t in my early 20s. But I have always been family-oriented from the youngest age I can remember of about 5 years old thinking that I wanted to have a family when I was older which is a little bit strange, and probably a story for another day...

But I wanted to have a family and be a present father in that family. And, as I was building my career I realized that I was working more in London and started work oversees, leaving the house early and getting home late. Before having my kids I started to worry as if I continue going down this road how is that going to play out. When my son was born - he is nearly 6 now - I was saying to my wife “I’ll carry on with this whole career thing until the balance is out of vax. When I feel like there is too much inbalance I’ll stop the career and will level up there and focus on family!” I don’t think either of us believed it but it helped to think that it was going to happen. And then it was when my daughter came along - she is now 8 months old - I struggled on paternity leave because we had an unplanned home birth. It happened quickly and I was meant to be in the office that day, I had several quite important meetings lined up, we were going to a restructure about which I was wondering how that will work out, and all of a sudden everything stopped.

After a few days, I just wanted to check in to see how things were going at work, so I sent a few WhatsApp messages and wanted to find out more about the outcomes of some projects and meetings, and the response I got was: “Dan, get your priority straight, you should be enjoying this time with your family, the work will be here when you return, don’t worry about it!” And I was thinking, I am not worried about it, but I am fulfilled by work as I am family, they are both equally important to me.

And I felt that I was made out to be a bad father because I wanted to know what was happening with work.

And it just did not sit well with me so I decided to - as you mentioned I am active on LinkedIn - to reach out to my LinkedIn connections and said that: “Look, I kind of feel this pull between career and also dad, I am thinking of starting something in that space, and those two words both mean a lot to me. What if I said, Career Dad. Does that mean anything to anyone? And the response that I got from guys just saying “YES”, I understand this, I don't need to know anything more, what are you building, how can I help.

That was August last year and since then we launched the website (careerdad.co.uk) where you find lots of articles around flexible working, career management, and finding mentors. But next to the career side of things you can also find articles about the family side of things, and what I have learnt about being a dad when I returned to the office, and how we don’t need to be pretending to live our best lives all the time. Sometimes, it is tough, but that’s okay. There is a podcast as well, the Career Dad Show, which tries to take real stories from real average guys, that might help other people. There are career-related stories about dads who set up their businesses while working full time. But there are some sadder stories, around breathment. I had one quest who talked about his daughter died within two days of being born. His company did not know what to do so they just gave him paternity leave and he had to organise his daughter funeral during paternity leave. Some of them are quite hard stories but they are stories that both I and the guests who attend feel like they will add value to other listeners.

Agnes Uhereczky: In your experience when you support organisations what are some of the existing barriers that mean fathers and men don’t embrace this part of their life?

Dan Reed: I have now started working with organisations to help them address some of these issues which weren’t what I thought when I set this up, but the need is there. And just before I answer your question, a few weeks ago is when I finally came up with the Career Dad mission statement which is simply to positively impact as many men’s life as possible because I think this is a never-ending mission, it can never be achieved. But to answer your question, I think there are several things. On shared parental leave and fathers taking an extended leave, there are several barriers within that. There are historical, cultural, societal barriers.

I would even suggest to break it down to judgements. What are my friends, my coworkers, my boss, what are they going to think of me if I say “I want to take 3 months of shared parental leave?” Will I stay be eligible for that promotion that I wanted, or will they think that I want to take my foot off the gas, and want to focus on family. I think that is one barrier. Pay, is another barrier. In the UK, in particular, you have got some strong examples of changes to shared parental leave policies. For example, AVIVA is leading the way of what they are doing with their shared parental leave policy, and they are offering full pay for both moms and dads. I think that where you have got examples of companies saying “Yes, you can take shared parental leave but you have to take the statutory pay away from your partner.” We go back to gender equality, and in a lot of circumstances, the men earn more than the women. So, can the family afford to use shared parental leave?

What potentially companies can do? What companies are missing out on in terms of supporting dads? I think this is a really interesting one, because, what I found when speaking to a lot of dads over the last few months is that companies are really good in the build-up to paternity leave, they are generally fantastic on paternity leave, and the immediate aftermath, they are also very good. So, let's say, if someone took two weeks paternity leave, the company would be great and returning to work, the boss might say, I know you are adjusting so maybe work from home two or three days this week, and have a late start and early finish, just while you get back your head in the game. But, then after that, it is just business as usual.

It is something like this: you have done your bit now, you have got on paternity leave, now just crack on, as you did before having your child.

And that is the biggest thing that companies can change to help support dads because, again, speaking to a lots of dads, they find the paternity leave bit relatively easy in the grand scheme of things, because that is where extended family swop in, everyone gathers around for a few weeks, there is a lot of support, and everyone goes again, and they are trying to now figure out how they work, potentially with little sleep. I think the biggest difference, companies can do is thinking through the question of what are they going to do in month 2 or month 6 of men being fathers.

Part of that as well as dads, we can be our worst enemy, as there is this huge masculinity around “I haven't slept in 3 weeks, or I am on my 7th coffee of the day, how good am I dadding?” You know, I don’t have any time for that but some people do. And some people are impressionable to that and may feel like they might not have had a really good night sleep, and they feel like they can’t talk about it. For example, in my case, my first child did not sleep for years, so I had broken sleep for 4 years. And, I remember, returning to work and one of my co-workers said to me: Dan you look awful, for which I replied: “Thank you!” And I remember talking to another father about this, and he said, of course, you are a new dad. And I get it, and I know what else is there as an answer, but it just reinforces the fact: well, okay, I am not going to complain about it, because this is what to be expected. I am conscious of that I think if actually can let dads, us, be a little bit more vulnerable and allow other people to be vulnerable if needed it, that will help quite a long way.