Why Workplaces Need to Be Fairer to Working Dads

 

Each year around Father’s Day, some businesses take a moment to express well wishes for the working dads among the staff. Unfortunately, that sensibility is too often short-lived.

 

Seventy-three percent of U.S. working fathers say there is little workplace support for fathers, according to a new survey from Promundo and Dove Men+Care. (I have a partnership with the latter and had the chance to weigh in on some of the questions as the survey was developed.)

 

It gets worse. Not only do many men fear negative repercussions if they were to take the full amount of paternity leave available to them, but 21% fear that they would lose their job if they did so.

 

This fear is sadly well founded. It’s based on cases in which this has actually happened. In my book All In, I told the story of a lawyer who took eight weeks to care for his sick wife and newborn child. He could have taken 12. Still, when he came back to work, he was demoted and then fired. Men have also been punished for seeking flexible schedules in order to be caregivers at home, as the Center for WorkLife Law at UC Hastings has chronicled.

 

Among the results of the survey is a striking finding about managers. Sixty-six percent of men and women believe their immediate managers want fathers to take all the paternity leave available to them. But when managers were asked, 87% said they believe fathers should take all the time available—a gap of 21%.

 

How is this difference explained? “It is possible that managers unintentionally give employees the impression that the leave is a burden, especially if they never explicitly voice their support for male employees taking leave,” the report states. “Managers and supervisors — all of us — need to be more vocal about their support for parental leave and emphasize that even if a man taking leave does create some challenges at work, they believe in the value of that leave to employees and their families.”

 

There’s also another layer to this. Some managers who profess to support paternity leave don’t take the full amount themselves. In fact, the new survey found, “men who manage others took less leave than other employees.”

 

This is a situation I’ve run into many times as I work with companies on these issues. While policies can be in place, cultures are what make them real. And when it comes to benefits like this, that cultural change has to come from the top down — that is, executives must take their full parental leaves if they want to send the message that their employees should as well.

 

It’s similar to some of the problems that stem from “unlimited” vacation time policies. Employees will often only take as much time as the boss does.

 

Of course, all of this is a rarified conversation, given that, according to the National Study of Employers, only 15% of men receive at least some pay while taking time to care for a new child. (In that same study, 58% percent of women receive at least some pay while on maternity leave, often through short-term disability insurance for physical recovery from giving birth.)

 

We know this is bad for gender equality. As long as women are pushed to always be caregivers, and men are pushed not to be, women will face more impediments to success in the workplace. Countries in northern Europe that have instituted “daddy quotas” — generous blocks of time available only to men — have helped normalize paternity leave. As a result, they’ve got some of the lowest gender wage gaps. Sweden found that for every month of paternity leave a father takes, the mother’s salary could increase by nearly 7%.

 

Making paternity leave available and affordable also helps businesses. In California, after a paid family leave insurance program was enacted, most employers reported that it “had either a ‘positive effect’ or ‘no noticeable effect’ on productivity (89%), profitability/performance (91%), turnover (96%), and employee morale (99%),” the Center for Economic and Policy Research found.

 

And when businesses don’t have paternity leave, they lose great men. The survey from Promundo and Dove Men+Care found that men (69%) are even more willing than women (66%) to change jobs if necessary in order to be very involved in the early weeks and/or months of their child’s life. This follows previous research from EY that found men are more likely to change jobs or careers, give up promotions, take pay cuts, or move in order to have more time with family.

 

However, men rarely tell their businesses the reason they’ve left the job. Managers generally think the employee simply got a job somewhere else. They don’t realize they could have kept him if they had been more supportive of him as a father.

 

Given that many of our workplace structures were forged in the “Mad Men” era, it’s little surprise that we still have laws, policies and stigmas acting as gender police, pushing women to stay at home and men to stay at work. But as more businesses learn the benefits of supporting men as equal caregivers at home, the more strides we can make to change that. This Father’s Day, let’s resolve to make it a year-round effort.

 

By: Josh Levs

Source: hbr.org