This week the 2020 Nominations for the Timewise Power 50 closed. These awards celebrate the people and places who make a success of flexible working.
It’s a perfect place in start my Guest Editor slot here on Daddilife, because access to flexible working is such an important part of designing workplaces fit for the modern world.
This is the sort of thing men tell me:
“It’s really important to me to be massively engaged in my children’s lives for as long as their childhoods last. At the same time, I want to make progress in my career.
That balance can be hard, especially when so many people perceive caring fathers as uncommitted to their jobs.”
Not only are we seeing a shift in attitudes but research shows that men are prepared to move jobs to achieve balance that works for them. Now we know not all jobs are flexible – trying to work in A&E from the comfort of your local coffee shop probably won’t work, but so many roles can be done from any location.
Part time working inspiration
With that in mind I’m bringing you the tale of Dom, the part time law partner.
Dominic Holmes is partner and co-head of the employment law practice at Taylor Vinters. https://www.taylorvinters.com/people/dominic-holmes
His story a powerful one for men everywhere about the importance of understanding and being honest with yourself about your priorities as a working dad. Then using that self-awareness as a springboard for talking to your partner and your workplace. It’s a story of designing work patterns that work for you and of managing the challenges along the way. It’s a story about how everything changes when you first become a Dad.
We originally published this article under the slightly unimaginative pseudonym of ‘Tom’. However, at Dom’s request, I’m very pleased that we can now openly celebrate the example and leadership that he and his firm set, both internally and externally. Showing that part time working can and should be available to everyone.
Being a Dad changed everything
I’ve been an equity partner here for three and a half years. We had a baby daughter last October – big life change for me. While I was on paternity leave (4 weeks at full pay), I was giving some thought to how to actually to come back five days a week.
I just couldn’t imagine how I was going to do it…
I had early engagement with our managing partner and another of my partners (who runs my team with me), who were both brilliant. They supported me in my initial decision to stay full-time but work from home a day a week, to see if it would work. So I did that for about six months, and it was working for the business. BUT it wasn’t really working for me because what I really wanted was a licence to switch off and spend time with my daughter rather just being in the same building where she was crying and needing my attention, and I couldn’t be doing anything about it.
So we revisited it in February / March this year.
Once I got it in my mind that actually the day a week from home was not working, it was a no-brainer for me. I remember walking across Waterloo Bridge one Friday afternoon, on my way to a meeting, thinking “I’ve just got to bite the bullet and do this”. The decision was made then and there and I haven’t looked back.
I went to 4 days a week on the 1st May. The whole firm, all my colleagues were very supportive. You know, it is obviously less money, but the best decision I think I’ve ever made in terms of being true to my own values and achieving a better work-life balance.
Part time work isn’t “just for mums.”
I’m not the only part time dad in the partnership, there are others. We have female part time partners as well. But genuinely, gender doesn’t come into it for us at all. And actually, one of the key things I wanted to do is actually show other people that part time work wasn’t just for mums.
I feel there is a perception that, whether it’s because of gender stereotypes or just for practicality reasons, it’s not “the thing” that dads do. I think it’s getting better though. For me, it was never an issue. But certainly, when I told some people outside of work, this is what I’m doing, it was a little bit of, “good for you”, but a bit of a raised eyebrow at the same time.
It depends what you value in life. I think people are sometimes held back by how they think they’ll be perceived. When it shouldn’t matter.
Do you think that Law makes part time working tricky?
I don’t think it’s specific to lawyers, but it is a feature of being successful in the legal profession that you can get caught up in being defined by your career if you are not careful, more than perhaps some other lines of work. So, you know, people know you’re a lawyer, and they automatically attribute some kind of status to that, especially if you are in the partner role.
How does moving to four days a week work practically and emotionally with the culture of the business?
Practically it works pretty well! I typically take Fridays off, but that’s not fixed. So if there are client demands, I can flex it and I have done a couple of times. So recently, I’ve had team members who are working on matters for clients where I am responsible for the relationship, and they’re on holiday on a Friday. I sometimes just step in. If stuff needs to be done, it needs to be done.
But I try and be pretty disciplined about it, because one of the bear traps you could fall into is actually just end up working hard on your “not working” day, and then you’re effectively doing five days work, four days’ pay.
As a self-employed owner in the business it’s slightly different to being an employee, in that sometimes you are called upon to do things. And I do feel a strong sense of responsibility towards my fellow partners (we’re a very collegiate group) but also towards my team in terms of ensuring they are well-supported.
In terms of how I manage it practically… I’m lucky to be an early bird. So I will always get up on Friday, at the same time as any other day – I’ll be up before six. And I can do a couple of hours if I need to, just tidying stuff up, getting emails out, and then usually by about 8am onwards that’s parenting time.
By then, my daughter’s awake and then I tend to switch off and share the parenting with my wife, although she is also very understanding that sometimes I need a bit of extra time to get things done or take the odd call during the day.
I carry my phone with me and my team knows that if they need to contact me, they can speak to me. But I, well, I don’t keep too close an eye on emails – I probably check quickly once or twice during the day but that’s it. And I only respond to stuff that is genuinely urgent. In part, that’s because we go out as a family and do stuff together. There’s no point in making a conscious decision to spend time with my daughter if I have half an eye on email all the time (in the same way that when I am in the office, I focus on that and don’t keep phoning home).
Everyone here is very respectful of that arrangement. But they know they can get a hold of me if they need to, and they do contact me from time to time, which is fine.
How does it work with your clients?
It depends on a client. I don’t openly advertise to clients that I don’t work Fridays, but nor am I deliberately clandestine about it. One or two are now aware of it and again, they are very supportive. But many clients don’t know, simply because it has never come up in conversation. They will work with others in my team as well and just see a seamless client service.
The two things to note in my approach:
1) When I absolutely have to do a client call, I’ll just do it, but I try not to. Often it can wait until Monday or another member of the team can deal with it. And a lot of my clients are like me, quite happy to speak to their lawyer first thing, and then just get on with the day, with whatever advice I’ve given. So that’s helpful.
2) The second benefit is that it made me delegate a lot more. I want my team to be as client facing as possible – they are all very talented people and it helps us to offer the seamless client service I mentioned earlier. It can be tricky because sometimes a client just wants to speak to the partner. It hasn’t really happened that much though. I’ve probably done half-a-dozen client calls a non-working day in the past six months. I will never say to a client, you can’t talk to me because it’s a Friday. But I manage it in such a way that they almost don’t notice I’m not there.
What sort of example does your part time work set for your team?
I run my team with one of the other partners here and we’re both pretty flexible with the team as a whole. If people need to go to personal appointments during the day, they should just go (within reason!). They ask and we can usually say yes. We trust them to get the work done.
So we don’t keep a close eye on when they are here and when they’re not here. They’re all very diligent and committed individuals and I am proud to work with them.
In my team, we have another partner who is also part-time, together with two of our other lawyers. It reflects the positive approach to flexible working we have across the firm.
What sort of message would you want to pass on to other Dads in a similar situation?
Good question… I think the stigma attached to it is reducing. If your values align with that kind of arrangement, whether it’s because you want to do some parenting, or actually just want to do something else with your life that’s not solely focused around your career, you can do that and still have a very fulfilling, successful career, and still be as effective in your job as you were when full time.
People sometimes worry about making the jump – I agonized over it for a while, but actually, I find it very liberating. And I have no regrets at all. It’s allowed me to develop a very close bond with my baby daughter and given me precious time with her already that I would never otherwise have had.
What are benefits for you of going part time?
I wanted to help out at home and be a hands-on dad. And I didn’t want to miss out I guess, so Friday is great. And actually, it makes me much more effective on Monday to Thursday – it allows me to be completely focused on my job. I’m very like, “this is work time now”. I don’t phone home every five minutes or FaceTime my wife and ask her to show me the baby, I don’t do that.
My commute means that I hardly see my daughter at all, Monday to Thursday. But I always know I’ve got three days out of the seven where I can do the meal times, I can take her out, I can do all of that kind of stuff and share parenting responsibility with my wife. It works well for all of us.
Last question, how have your friends’ opinions changed?
I think they’ve been great and have probably seen the benefits it has brought to me.
I guess people don’t expect it from someone whom they perceive to be quite career driven. Although I don’t think I’ve ever portrayed myself as a hundred percent live and die by my work – you know, “being a lawyer is my purpose”. I’ve never been like that. I’ve always tried to have perspective and make time for things outside work, even though it is a demanding profession and it is easy to fall into that mindset.
I think it is assumed that to climb the ladder in our profession, you have to be totally single-minded to the exclusion of all else. And hopefully, again, that’s another thing I can show, you really don’t. As long as you’re really good at what you do, and clients love what you do, it can work. And you can be just as effective by working fewer hours, as long as you are organised, efficient and always focused on client service delivery.
It’s not about presenteeism.
Dom’s story is a really powerful tale of honesty with yourself, talking about how you feel with your partner, and your workplace. It’s easy to assume that the response will be negative when you express a desire to rebalance your working life. But if you don’t talk about it you are definitely setting yourself up for a life of resentment, trapped by what you think might happen if you are true to yourself.
Never forget that you aren’t alone
66 per cent of the GQ State Of Man survey respondents chose “being a present father” as the number one aspect of modern masculinity.
It would be simple to assume that it’s easy for Dom – “he’s a lawyer, I expect he earns a shed load of money”. But in my experience of working with Dads, income is relative to your expectations. It doesn’t matter what you earn, choosing to trade money for a life that better fits your values and objectives is a tough thing to do. It’s not a decision you can make on your own.
Equally the nature of client facing organisations such as Law makes moves towards part time work tricky to balance with the expectations of those clients whose livelihood you depend on. The world is changing, and I hope that stories like this open your eyes to what is possible to achieve.