Are Men Having Their Mr Banks Moment?

Caroline Newte Hardie is founder of Peace+Riot, a parent-friendly ‘third space’ for people to take their children to after school or nursery. Parents will be able to continue working (or simply relax) while their children are expertly entertained in the same room by ‘Peace Keepers’. Here, Caroline reflects on the potentially positive shift in family dynamics caused by the pandemic.

The Age of Men gets a reboot

On a rainy Sunday morning, knees deep in Lockdown II, I plonked our two boys in front of my favourite childhood film – Mary Poppins. Woah. The pace was so slow – seven minutes in and not one person had uttered any absolutist statements that would inevitably be disproved in the emotional denouement. And not one squirrel had a subplot with an acorn. Times have changed. However, Mr Banks finally stepped in with David Tomlinson’s sung-spoken prologue, The Life I Lead – because remember, Mary Poppins was sent to save the father – not the children. Here’s a little extract:

It's grand to be an Englishman in 1910, King Edward's on the throne; It's the age of men, I'm the lord of my castle, The sov'reign, the liege!

The ‘age of men’, as a phrase, sat with me for a bit. Not least because I was waiting to be asked ‘Mummy; what does The Age of Men, mean?’ and it’s good to be prepared (yet again) to explain to my two boys why their mother’s gender seems to have had such a rough deal over the years, and why it’s no reflection on women as a sex, nor men for that matter and so on - you get the picture; it’s really fun for everyone. 

As much as the gender pay gap is still with us; that the ‘mental load’ is very much A Thing women are still learning to articulate; and as we come to terms with the fact that coronavirus has hit women harder than men in terms of career, opportunity and the daily grind, we couldn’t probably say that now – could we? I don’t think so. Not quite, anyway.  

The illuminating Life I Lead is hung on the routine of Mr Banks’ day;

It's 6:03 and the heirs to my dominion, Are scrubbed and tubbed and adequately fed, And so I'll pat them on the head, And send them off to bed

It suddenly struck me: the underlying features of The Age of Men, seemed not just to be minimal paternal contact and an unrealistically early bedtime, but an overwhelming adherence to routine and schedule made possible by staff, women, children – and men – all scurrying around to keep to the deadlines of the invisible – but mighty – Employer. Perhaps it wasn’t the Age of Men, but instead - The Age of Fixed Working Hours. Interesting. And less catchy too. In that sense I would argue that, pre-Coronavirus, not a lot had changed since 1910 after all. 110 years of everyone’s lives obeying Fixed Working Hours. 

Flexible working shifts to dynamic working

After decades of quiet, loud, determined – and brave – campaigning for job shares, condensed hours, flexible – and more recently dynamic – working hours; the tantalising shift of work-life-balance gradually morphing into work-life-integration, it seems that what we needed after all was a deadly global pandemic to force employers’ hands so that men had to be at home, wherever possible, for everyone’s benefit. When you put it like that, you can see why it’s been so hard to effect change for so long. Even with the pandemic in place, some employers were still dragging their heels with questions like, ‘How deadly?’. 

Suddenly, white collar men got to see what they were missing out on. FOMO, it seems, is more persuasive than stepping in to ‘help manage the load’.  I recently spoke with an experienced recruiter and she reported that applicants were suddenly looking at jobs with salaries up to 40% below their current roles if it meant they could accommodate family life – this was the case for both sexes. This is a huge and unprecedented shift. 

Don’t get sucked in by the parenthood penalty

At Peace + Riot we recognised an emerging trend of parents pursuing what was then called ‘flexible working’ – and is now increasingly referred to as ‘dynamic working’. The shift was slow and painful, and it wasn’t without risk in terms of relationships with employers, to the extent that unprecedented numbers of parents were making the move to a freelance portfolio career. In millennial families, both parents work in 72% of households. Something has got to give, and it is not necessarily always the mother’s career. The thinking morphed from ‘there should no longer be a motherhood penalty,’ to realising that when fathers become more actively involved it would be short-sighted for the same problem just to be passed sideways and become the ‘parenthood penalty’. Instead, workers were taking things into their own hands, reducing hours, working dynamically around their children’s day; integrating their family life with their working life. 

Keeping the peace

Peace + Riot has been established to help with that transition and the subsequent challenging logistics. Dynamic working can make for complicated – and expensive – childcare options. Peace + Riot provides an affordable space where  you can bring your children with you for food and play whilst you work – or just have a rest and stare into space. Your children are always with you whilst you work, but their play and engagement in our interactive and educational activities is supported by our ‘Peace Keepers’. Our Peace Keepers work as home-helps would; on hand to support and engage, except you’re not at home, you’ve got a change of scene with other grown-ups and someone else is even bringing over some delicious food and a cup of coffee you’ll be able to drink hot. Peace + Riot is your new support network; your workspace;  your day out, night out and time out; your time to think, do and be; your home from home – but better. You see, we get it.

As jobs become decentralised from the office, higher salaries to pay higher rents and mortgages ‘where the work is’ might not be the behavioural drivers in the job searches of tomorrow. Instead the driver for the worker to move on to greener pastures would be reassessing working arrangements that are dynamic and decentralised.  With that in mind, employers will need to think further than the bottom line when they are planning their recruitment strategy to make sure that they attract, and retain, the best people. After all, I think we can assume that when Mr Banks started looking for his next job after working for that dusty old banking institution, even he made sure he would have time to go fly a kite. 

Peace+Riot’s first site opens in Spring 2021 in Dulwich, South East London with further sites opening across the country. To become a Founder Member, sign up to the mailing list at www.peaceandriot.co and get first dibs on reduced membership rates (full yearly memberships start at £250 per household). 


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