Thought Leaders//

How Moms and Dads Can Finally Be Treated the Same at Work — and at Home


New research inspires needed change in paternity leave.

Getty Images
Getty Images

With so much overdue attention finally going toward helping women rise in the workplace, it might seem strange to push for more resources for working dads. But it’s crucial. That’s because moms won’t get more help from their partners at home until companies better support their dad employees.

Part of the reason moms don’t climb as high on the corporate ladder as dads is because they take weeks, sometimes years, off from work when they welcome children. And when they return, they are usually the default primary caregivers, calling out from work when childcare falls through. Of course, their careers shouldn’t be penalized for this, but we know they are. In fact, for every child a mom has, her pay decreases 4%; for every child a dad has, his salary rises 6%.

Dads of the past might have been satisfied with this outrageous inequality, but not anymore. Three-quarters of Millennial dads want more time with their kids, according to a 2016 Boston College study, and almost as many working dads across generations say their workplaces don’t give them enough support, according to a 2018 Harvard Business Review article. According to new data from the Working Mother Research Institute, 60% of both mothers and fathers find it difficult to balance parenting and their careers — and they both rank working flexibly, more paid time off to spend with kids, and sick and backup childcare highly for benefits that help families. When we look at paid parental leave offerings, though, even when parents are entitled to use equal amounts of leave, moms still actually take more time off than dads. Near-equal amounts of moms as dads take any time off when they become parents (65% of moms vs. 63% of dads), yet even when dads get paid leave, they take about half as much time as moms do (around eight weeks off for moms and just four for dads).

For all these reasons, progress for working moms is slow. Corporations have to make it OK for dads to prioritize being dads. Offering paid paternity leave is good. Offering fully paid gender-neutral parental leave is better. Encouraging dads to use all the time they’re given, and other benefits such as those top three on parents’ wishlists (flexible work arrangements, more PTO and backup childcare), is best.

When men have role models — male leaders at their companies who take parental leave, they’re more likely to do the same. Working Mother’s research found that when dads saw senior men at their companies take time off, they were 20 to 50% more likely to do the same. Dads who believe their company encourages men to take time off took almost two weeks longer leave than the dads who don’t say they get that encouragement.

For the second year now, Working Mother is honoring the Best Companies for Dads, employers that are satisfying fathers’ top requests to make parenting more manageable and fulfilling, as well as creating cultures in which men are explicitly motivated to take full advantage of those benefits. It’s our hope that by calling attention to these organizations’ great work toward putting moms and dads on equal footing more businesses will follow suit — and that working moms will benefit.

When working dads stay home with sick children more often — or better yet, companies offer childcare when nannies are unavailable or kids can’t go to school or daycare — moms don’t have to miss the key opportunities they might if they’re the default caregiver on those days. When working dads take more time off when babies join families, moms feel more supported (and, according to a 2019 Stanford University study, less likely to develop postpartum depression) and can return to work (slightly) less exhausted from those grueling first weeks. When working dads utilize flexible schedules so they can attend kids’ events that take place during business hours, moms can be in the office, taking — or leading! — important meetings.

So yeah, it’s great that moms are feeling more comfortable than ever being working moms, but it’s high time dads do, too. And when they do, that sad little number of moms in the C-suite will grow… and grow and grow. 

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