My five-month-old son loves his father. While many infants only have eyes for Mommy, he doesn’t seem to have a favorite parent. But then again, Daddy has been home with him every day of his life—playing with him, comforting him, changing his diapers, playing the ukulele, and singing him to sleep.
Because my husband and I both work freelance, we’ve spent the first five months of our child’s life at home. That’s an opportunity most new parents in this country don’t get.
The US is one of only four nations that doesn’t guarantee paid maternity leave, much less paternity leave. Companies with more than 50 employees must grant new parents at least 12 weeks off under the Family and Medical Leave Act, but companies aren’t required to pay workers for any of that time, and most choose not to do so. According the Society for Human Resource Management, only 21 percent of organizations offer paid maternity leave, and only 17 percent offer paid leave for new fathers.
That’s not just unfair to men, many of whom want to be equal parents rather than just backup for Mom. It’s also a huge lost opportunity for families, for employers who want to attract and retain top talent, and for the advancement of women in business.
Work/life balance isn’t just a priority for women, nor are mothers the only ones who need time off to bond with their babies, to care for sick children, or to attend school functions. But until the corporate world acknowledges that and shifts the workplace culture accordingly, most moms will continue to bear the brunt of child-rearing responsibilities—and the career setbacks that often come with it.
The business case for women leaders has been made again and again. Multiple studies have shown that companies with women in top leadership positions are more innovative, more profitable, and quicker to grow than those with all-male executive teams.
Faced with this realization (as well as an increasing talent shortage and public demands for greater gender equity) forward-thinking employers are using creative thinking and pulling out all the stops to help women in business succeed—at work and at home.
This is particularly true in tech companies, where the war for talent is really raging. Apple and Facebook now foot the bill for female employees to freeze their eggs. IBM, Accenture, and Twitter all pay for nursing mothers to ship breast milk home when they travel for work. And over the last year, a number of notable companies have increased paid maternity leave.
These are all admirable and progressive efforts, but to really change things for women, employers must also change things for men. By freeing up fathers to take a greater role in their families, companies not only remove logistical barriers that keep women from advancing up the career ladder, but they also do away with the stigma that places talented women on the “Mommy Track.” Suddenly, mothers aren’t primary caregivers, but rather one of two capable parents who occasionally need to prioritize family over work. And if everyone is doing it, no one gets discriminated against.
Can simply offering paid leave for new dads make that big of a difference for women in business? It’s certainly a strong start.
Research shows that dads who take significant time off when their children are born remain more involved in their children’s lives than those who don’t. This means fathers have more satisfying relationships with their kids, and mothers have more time to focus on advancing at work.
In a recent study by EY and the Peterson Institute for International Economics, researchers looked at data from almost 22,000 companies in 91 countries to determine how government-mandated family leave affects career advancement for women. Maternity leave wasn’t strongly associated with women in leadership, but paternity leave was. In fact, the 10 countries with the highest percentages of women leaders offered 11 times more leave days for new fathers than the bottom 10 countries. The top three countries included Norway (which gives fathers at least 14 weeks leave), Italy (where parents share 26 weeks), and France (where fathers get 26 weeks all to themselves).
Likewise, a study from the Institute for Labor Market Policy Evaluation in Sweden found that a mother’s future earnings increased about 7 percent for every month of leave the father took.
The moral of the story is clear: for women to achieve equity in the workplace, there must be more equity on the home front. But while many modern fathers are up to the challenge, paltry leave policies and inflexible organizational cultures still make it difficult for them to step up.
My husband has turned out to be a great dad, but he’s got some stiff competition for Father of the Year. Just Google “blogs for dads,” and it quickly becomes apparent that many men—particularly Millennial men—don’t want to be backseat parents. They want to be up front, navigating the twists and turns of child rearing just like moms.
For example, when Aaron Gouveia—author of the Daddy Files blog—found out that his employer, IBM, extended paid parental leave for fathers and domestic partners, he was happy to take the time off. In his post, “IBM Now Offers 6 Weeks Paid Paternity Leave. And I’m Taking Every Bit of It,” he wrote:
I’m going to bond with my baby. I’m going to wake up with my wife for every feeding. I’m going to learn which cry means “I’m hungry” and which cry means “change my diaper.” I’m going to help my wife with our other two kids, including my oldest who could have his first day of 2nd grade while we’re in the delivery room. I’m going to be as involved as possible because dads are equal partners in parenting, not glorified babysitters.
I’m going to take my leave as publicly as possible. I’m going to write about it and chronicle it on these pages. I’m going to talk to my male coworkers whose partners are expecting, and urge them to take all six weeks too. As one of a select few who have the privilege of taking this time off, I feel that’s my duty. I view it as my responsibility to help make paternity leave normal instead of shameful. To be proud of being a family man instead of doing it on the sly or worried it might cost me my job.
Men like Gouveia, who are willing to put family first even if it costs them at work, certainly do their part to change cultural stereotypes about what it means to be a father. But it’s a risk that many new dads are still scared to take.
A study by Boston College found that 89 percent of men believe it’s important for employers to offer paid parental leave for fathers. Millennial dads felt particularly strongly about it, with 93 percent indicating it was extremely, very, or somewhat important (compared to 88 percent of Gen X fathers and 77 percent of Boomers). Yet, among those who were offered leave, only about half actually took the time they were allowed.
It’s not hard to understand why. While men’s attitudes towards parenting may be changing, public perception still has a long way to go, and even high-profile fathers face some backlash when they do what’s best for their families.
As Vogue reported:
Less than two years ago, New York Mets baseball player Daniel Murphy was criticized by fans and sports reporters after he took three days off and missed two games of the season to take care of his newborn son. In Glamour‘s June 2015 issue, TOMS Shoes CEO Blake Mycoskie said that after he announced he was taking 12 weeks off to take care of his son, he was faced by incredulous questions from his CEO peers like, “How are you supposed to lead a company while changing diapers?”
Thankfully, Mycoskie showed them exactly how it’s done, and several other executive men have followed suit in the past year.
But what about new fathers who aren’t C-level leaders? To ensure they feel comfortable taking leave, employers must change more than their policies—they must change their cultures. And that’s exactly what some top companies are aiming to do.
Which employers are leading the charge to make their workplaces more father friendly? According to new research from Fatherly.com, the top five places for new dads to work include:
The streaming media company already revolutionized how consumers watch movies and television. Now it’s also transforming how employees approach work/life balance by setting a gold standard that other companies probably won’t adopt but could certainly learn from.
Earlier this year, Netflix announced that salaried employees—male or female—can now take up to a year off following the birth of a child. When they’re ready to return to work, they can come back full time or part time, or they can come and go as they see fit. Meanwhile, hourly employees get between 12 and 16 weeks of paid parental leave.
Whether parents will actually take the allotted time is hard to say, considering the new policy is only a few months old. But corporate leaders are already doing their part to promote work/life balance by taking advantage of Netflix’s unlimited vacation policy. Case in point: CEO Reed Hastings took a six-week vacation last year.
Babies don’t just need their fathers during the first few months. Raising children is an ongoing and time-consuming job—one that’s much easier when both parents are available to pitch in.
Understanding this, Spotify takes an innovative approach to parental leave, offering new dads up to 24 weeks of paid time off during the first three years after having a baby. They can take it all up front or spread it out as they see fit. And when they do return to work, they can take advantage of the company’s “Welcome Back” program, which lets them ease back into full-time schedules with telecommuting and flex time.
Cultural changes start at the top. For men to really feel comfortable taking parental leave, it can’t just be allowed or even accepted. It must be expected. And the best way for employers to prove they want new parents to take time off is for corporate leaders to set that example.
That’s exactly what Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg did. When his daughter was born last fall, the tech genius took two months off and even posted photos of himself changing diapers on Facebook.
Zuckerberg isn’t the first Facebook exec to use his parental leave. In 2013, VP of Search Tom Stocky took four months after the birth of his child, though presumably only 17 of those weeks were paid, as that’s what the company offers new dads.
In addition, all Facebook employees start with 21 days of paid time off and unlimited sick days. New parents—including vendors and part-time employees—receive a $4,000 “new child benefit.” And the company supplements its health insurance with $20,000 worth of fertility and family planning benefits.
Outerwear manufacturer Patagonia isn’t just a great place for new dads to work. The family-friendly culture is inviting for parents with children of any age.
Along with 12 weeks of paid leave for new dads, Patagonia offers on-site childcare, pays for babysitters to accompany parents who travel for work, and provides ample paid time off so parents can be involved in their children’s schools and lives.
The family-centric culture at Patagonia is so impressive that President Obama recently praised the company for it.
While tech companies are leading the work/life balance charge, the finance industry has a lot of catching up to do. One notable exception is Bank of America, where new parents get 16 weeks of paid parental leave, to be taken at any time during the first year of a child’s life.
Bank of America also offers a number of other family-friendly perks, including confidential counseling and resources for new parents. It also provides an $8,000 credit to help adoptive parents cover legal expenses, and reimburses parents up to $240 per month, per child, for childcare expenses incurred while working.
These are just a handful of the companies that are empowering working moms by empowering working dads. They’re still the exception to the rule in this country, but they’re doing their part to change cultural stereotypes about parenting. And we can only hope that as public perception changes, so will the workplace.