“Most women now work outside the home and have careers as well as being mothers. In Britain 70 per cent of mothers of nine to 12-month-old babies now do some paid work. This compares with only 25 per cent 25-five years ago – a massive change in our way of life.” Children’s Society
In the 70s the weekend was the only time to catch up with family. I am a 70s child – a time when the norm was for the father to work and the mother to stay at home and look after the children (albeit not mine, my mother worked from when I was eight weeks old).
Our culture has gone through a radical transformation since then and we are now living in a time where more often than not both parents work to meet escalating living costs, and this in turn adds pressure to achieving a balanced approach to work and family life. There has been lots of coverage in the architecture media recently regarding the number of mothers leaving the profession because of the challenge of finding a work and family life balance that architectural practice can accommodate. I have the utmost respect for any parent, mother or father, that is able to strike this balance and even more so if they work in architectural practice.
At ORMS one third of our employees are parents of young families and whilst we try to be as flexible and accommodating as possible to incorporate their family needs, it can prove extremely difficult to juggle this and still meet the demands of our clients and projects. I am certainly not undermining the challenges mothers face, which have been well documented, (and I hope this is not a Samantha Brick or John Griffin moment) but in this day of equality I want to focus on the challenges faced by fathers in balancing their commitmentArchitecture is often described as a vocation that demands many hours to achieve a high quality of architecture. It takes dedication and often unsociable hours to progress in the profession, so how can this be balanced with the changing needs of modern family life?
Recently becoming a father has highlighted to me that finding the right balance between working and family life is a delicate one, and to date has proved very difficult to achieve. As a director I have a variety of responsibilities and in these challenging times keeping the practice busy is key, but I am determined to be a vital part of my daughter’s development and enjoy family life.
After taking my statutory two weeks paternity leave to provide support, bond with our new arrival and start our family life I was very quickly thrown back into the flow of architecture and its demands. I regularly leave home at 7am hopefully after catching a glimpse of our daughter (but often she is awake at 5am then back in bed) and if I am lucky the end of the working day will be 7pm, but can be later depending on whether there are networking events – way after her bedtime… so seeing her during the week is difficult, but is it possible to change this?
With more mothers in the workplace, which has a significant and positive impact on the output of a practice, it does mean that fathers should have the opportunity to support the family instead. I want to be able to support my wife more, who is an interior designer and in the process of starting her own business; I want to be part of our daughter’s daily routine; I want to see the next development in her speech or crawling, and I want to be part of the evening bath time and even read her a book. But where is the support for working fathers?
New technology has meant that keeping in contact with the office or site is easier, but running a project team from your dining room is a challenge. Flexible working currently has a stigma. If you have a team working to a deadline and a team member leaves early, even if agreed, it creates tension for all parties. But is this the solution?
It is claimed by Families Need Fathers that: “working flexibly has a significant positive impact on fathers over those who don’t work flexibly. Fathers who were working flexibly have better physical and psychological health, are less stressed, are more committed to their employer and enjoy better relationships with their colleagues’.
But is this really possible in architecture? Can a crucial client meeting be arranged to suit your needs, and can design team meetings be arranged to suit your diary and no one else’s? Can you ignore contractors’ RFI’s and emails whilst the concrete is being poured on site?
Flexible working; is this the only answer? I would like to understand how others are able to meet this challenge and how practices are developing their working methods to meet this changing need. We should also keep in mind that apparently: “In the United Kingdom, we have one of Europe’s most parent-friendly systems, which allow parents to have a quality of life and parental stability not always afforded by other countries.”
25 May 2012