Taking Paternity Leave is Still a Challenge

Came across this LinkedIn post the other day by Jake Anderson about Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg’s recently 487328649 -- father and childannounced few-months’-paternity leave for his daughter.

Anderson, co-founder of FertilityIQ, lays out pretty thoroughly why so few new dads (fewer than 50 percent) actually take the time Zuckerberg is taking, even when they’re encouraged to by their employers:

“Despite the ‘entrepreneur-as-rockstar’ boom, nearly every working dad (and mom) I know is still middle management. Whether you work at Publix, Pinterest or PGE, being middle management means essentially the same thing: You have just enough responsibility to have direct reports who can bungle something critical. But not quite enough responsibility to ensure you won’t get edged out, undermined, displaced or overlooked. You’re vulnerable, and probably a tad paranoid.

“Nearly 50 percent of dads on paternity leave checked email once per day and cite workplace pressure and stigma for cutting leave short. When asked what is the ‘ideal’ time for them to be gone, most men answered two weeks. Weirdly enough, that’s [often] the same duration their employers thought.”

We’ve certainly written about men’s reluctance to take the kind of new-father leave they probably should, and companies’ reluctance to offer it, both here on HRE Daily and on our HRE website — as well as the problems new moms have in making maternity and work … well, work.

What’s different is Anderson’s characterization of his own demographic group and what might really lie behind this reluctance:

“Amidst the silent apprehension, paternity leave should feel like a godsend. For a generation committed to data and proof, there are reams of studies that demonstrate taking paternity leave creates equality in the home and healthier relationships between father and child. Reading on, and between, the lines of Mark Zuckerberg’s announcement, he buys into the notion paternity leave helps address concerns that haunt so many men of our generation.

“But nearly 50 percent of dads who have the option to use generous paternity leave (let’s call it four-plus weeks), still don’t take all of it. What’s even weirder is that when dads were asked if they should get longer paternity leave, a healthy majority answered ‘no.’ Where I came from, people don’t just turn down paid leave lightly, so you better believe something else is up.”

Anderson doesn’t pretend to know exactly what that phenomenon is that’s “up.” But he does take a stab at it: Men are either suffering from a fear of missing out at work or a fear of wading through too many nitty-grittys of new parenthood, what he calls a “fear of being included (in diapers).” Or both, which he thinks is probably the case.

What he does provide employers and HR is a four-point plan of action that is most definitely worth thinking about:

  1. Closely track which men are likely to reach which levels of role and salary in three years and compare the cohorts of men who took leave and their comparables who did not.
  2. Each year, publicly, and honestly, reveal the data by department.
  3. In departments where a consistent disparity exists, force every new father to take six weeks paid leave, until either the negative cultural bias is washed out or the best practice of leave becomes commonplace.
  4. In departments where no meaningful disparity exists, allow new fathers to make their own decisions.

Without a doubt, parental leave is becoming an increasingly important and serious consideration for employers that want to keep their best people around and happy. Consider this announcement a week ago today introducing a new consultancy for employers devoted to nothing but parental leave.

(Here’s the official website of the new group, the Center for Parental Leave Leadership — partnering, impressively, with the likes of the Working Parent Support Coalition, Working Mother Media, Cornell University, the Families and Work Institute and the American Academy of Pediatrics. Clearly, more than just this group sees a need for more help on the employer front.)

Where we all go from here in this ongoing social experiment called working parenthood, let’s not only all take it dead seriously (“past the press-release stage [and onto] harder measures,” as Anderson writes); let’s make sure we’re all in it together, moms and dads.

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