HRE has done its share of stories on the plight of working fathers in recent years. But with Father’s Day approaching this Sunday, I figure it might be a good time to revisit this important, but frequently below-the-radar, topic.
I suspect that line of thinking also went into the White House’s scheduling of its first-ever conference on the challenges facing working dads earlier this week.
As Jason Furman and Betsey Stevenson of the Council of Economic Advisers wrote on the White House blog, the purpose of the conference was to explore “the state of working dads and how businesses can create a win-win culture to enable these fathers to be more involved parents and better employees.”
In his remarks at the event, Labor Secretary Thomas E. Perez told participants …
“We need to do more to give people the tools to be responsible employees and good parents, so they don’t have to choose between the families they love and the jobs they need. We need to make sure people are able to put food on the table, but also to be at that table to eat dinner.”
Perez, who noted that the United States is one of only four nations that fails to offer any form of paid parental leave, went on to say: “We need to take on a whole host of issues that, frankly, have been absent from the national agenda. We have to start talking about child care, which is shockingly expensive in the United States. We have to lean in on paid leave, flexibility, work/life balance and family-friendly workplaces.” (In case you’re wondering, the other three nations are Swaziland, Lesotho and Papua New Guinea!)
Among those on hand to share their insights and experiences was New York Mets’ second baseman Dale Murphy, who — some of you may recall — received a lot of flak from radio commentators when he missed opening day in April to be with his wife for the birth of their son, Noah. (WFAN radio host Mike Francesa said on his show, “Go see your baby be born and come back. You’re a Major League Baseball player. You can hire a nurse to take care of the baby if your wife needs help.”)
As Time reports, Murphy told participants he doesn’t regret his decision: “When Noah asks me one day, what was it like when I was born, I think it will go so much farther that I cut his umbilical cord. Long after I won’t be a baseball player anymore, I will still be a father and a husband.”
Murphy, of course, isn’t your typical employee. (What baseball player is?) But his experience is still an important reminder that companies, in general, need to do more to remove the stigma associated with dads taking time off following the births of their children and to be there for other important milestones in their lives.
Personally, I wish I demonstrated a similar fortitude early in my career. Soon after my wife gave birth to our first son, I was scheduled to take my first business trip to Europe. At the time, I felt it would be detrimental to my career not to go—so I went. It’s a decision I very much regret making—and one, I might add, my wife, to this day, won’t let me forget.
I suspect these kinds of stories are more common than one would like to think, though hopefully, some of the stigma has diminished with the increasing realization that working dads, much like working moms, should be entitled to a more healthy work/life balance.
Speaking to this point, research published last month in Springer’s Journal of Business and Psychology, titled “The ‘New’ Dad: Navigating Fathering Identity Within Organizational Contexts,” makes the case that men continue to view their roles as fathers in the context of the workplace.
Through in-depth interviews with 31 fathers who all have working spouses, the researchers from the University of Massachusetts/Lowell, Northeastern University and Boston College found there continues to be a “strong cultural perspective that, when men become fathers, little will change for them on the work front.” (The researchers also point out that organizations, managers and co-workers still—italics are mine—do not fully recognize and openly appreciate men’s caregiving roles.)
Judging from this recent study and others that preceded it, companies still have a lot more work to do in terms of removing the stigma surrounding working dads. From my perspective, the White House conference seems to be a good step in the right direction. (I also would imagine that the topic will be addressed again on June 23, when the White House holds its Summit on Working Families.) But it probably also shouldn’t be overlooked that employers have the ability to do something about this issue today, as a small but growing number of forward-thinking companies (including some featured at this week’s conference) have already demonstrated.
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