For advocates of paternity leave, recent years have brought some good news. Twenty-nine percent of organizations now offer some paid leave for fathers, up from 21% a few years ago, according to the Society for Human Resource Management. But overall, the picture is bleak. Seventy-one percent of organizations not offering paternity leave is nothing to celebrate. Worse, when paternity leave is offered, the pressures on men not to take it are often extreme. To fight this battle — for the sake of women, men, businesses, all of society, and most importantly children who need time with both their mothers and fathers — dads need to stick together.
For advocates of paternity leave, recent years have brought some good news. High-profile companies like Amazon, Netflix, and Microsoft have created or expanded their programs. Twenty-nine percent of organizations now offer some paid leave for fathers, up from 21% a few years ago, according to the Society for Human Resource Management. And steadily, more states are creating paid family leave insurance programs, which include leave for new fathers.
But overall, the picture is bleak. Seventy-one percent of organizations not offering paternity leave is nothing to celebrate. Even among large businesses with at least 10,000 employees, almost half (48%) lack paternity leave.
Worse, when paternity leave is offered, the pressures on men not to take it are often extreme. Some new dads have been fired, demoted and lost job opportunities for doing so.
My book, All In, is filled with such stories, and parents often share anecdotes with me. A lawyer in Florida recently told me that his boss said to him, “We have six weeks of paternity leave, but you’re not taking any.” A public relations executive in California told me her husband’s boss criticized him, asking, “Why isn’t your wife doing that?”
In a survey I helped develop for Dove Men+Care (a brand I partner with) and Promundo, 73% of fathers said there’s little workplace support for them. Twenty-one percent fear losing their jobs if they take their full paternity leave. “We’re still held back by two traditional stereotypes: that men are the primary breadwinners and women are the primary caregivers for children,” the survey found.
These stereotypes, vestiges of the Mad Men era, hurt everyone. They hold back women’s careers, since families are left with no choice but for women to do more caregiving. They hurt children, who need time with both parents. They damage businesses, which lose great women and men. EY found that men are even more likely than women to switch jobs or careers to have more time with their families.
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It isn’t easy to stand up to the pressures against taking paternity leave. With a new child in the home, things are hectic — and, in most cases, money is tight. The last thing dads can do is risk their jobs and careers.
But men in this situation need to know they’re not alone. After I launched a legal fight against CNN/Time Warner for fair paternity leave, people all over the country and around the world issued public statements of support. Numerous colleagues of mine were openly supportive as well, even hugging me in the newsroom. All this made a huge difference. (Ultimately, the company changed its policy, in a win-win for both sides.)
So to fight this battle — for the sake of women, men, businesses, all of society, and most importantly children who need time with both their mothers and fathers — we need to stick together.
For fellow dads who find themselves in this situation, here are steps to take.
Seek a change in advance
Unlike other forms of leave, time off to care for a newborn is something you can usually plan for. Find out the policies in your workplace, and the protocols for requesting a change. Start off with the optimistic assumption that your organization will want to do the right thing. Show executives the research demonstrating that paternity leave saves them money by attracting and retaining employees, including women and men.
Come out of the shadows
If, as with me, your business puts off a decision, only to say no after your child is born, share your story publicly. When I went public with my case, men — including some I didn’t know — called me to share their experiences. Some cried on the phone, describing heartbreaking stories of having to leave their wives alone at home and rush back to work. One man had twins in the ICU. In virtually all these cases, they hadn’t discussed it publicly. For us to take on this issue, we need to help everyone see how widespread the problem it is, and the impact it has on our families.
Learn the laws
I discovered through my experience that most workers don’t know their rights. I filed a charge with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. Many people didn’t know what that is, let alone the fact that an EEOC charge gives a worker certain protections. After my case was filed, the EEOC also sent out guidance making clear to employers that they should “carefully distinguish” medical recovery leave for women after a birth and caregiving leave, which must be gender neutral. Steadily, more men have been taking legal action.
Take, and share, the Paternity Leave Pledge
Recently, Dove Men+Care and I announced a new effort to make paternity leave a national norm. The Pledge for Paternity Leave is an invitation to everyone to take action. New and expecting dads can pledge to take their full leave — to stand up against the stigmas, exert their rights, and demand that their workplaces treat them fairly. Allies can pledge to spread the word about positive impacts of paternity leave and to call on officials to endorse parental leave. And business leaders can pledge to enact paternity leave policies.
It takes a village to make this happen. But when we do, we help ensure that kids will grow up seeing mom and dad as equally capable at work and home. They see that their choices do not have to be limited by their gender. That fuels how they see their futures. In the long run, that’s the shift we need.
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