As it’s Father’s Day (at least here in the UK), it’s timely to consider why the uptake of paternity leave – where available – isn’t as high as we might expect. According to the Wall Street Journal:
Fifteen percent of U.S. firms provide some paid leave for new fathers, according to a survey from the Society for Human Resource Management to be released on Father’s Day.
It sounds like progress, but in reality men are reluctant to take time off for a variety of reasons, ranging from a fear of losing status at work to lingering stereotypes about a father’s role in the family.
And it’s not just fears about slowing their career progression:
Despite the rise of fathers’ networks in some companies, many men who openly identify with their parental role at work face pressure or resentment from co-workers. A forthcoming paper from the University of Toronto’s Rotman School of Management found that men who are active caregivers get teased and insulted at work more than so-called traditional fathers and men without children.
Active fathers are seen as distracted and less dedicated to their work—the same perception that harms career prospects for many working mothers, said Jennifer Berdahl, the study’s lead author, adding that such men are accused of being wimpy or henpecked by their wives.
It almost sounds like working fathers are bearing the brunt of intolerance in the workplace faced by working mothers!
Employees tend to review the culture of the organisation in which they work and make judgements about will and won’t be accepted by others. These working fathers who have seen others being mis-treated will be far less likely to request additional leave themselves.
This can undermine any organisational efforts to promote flexible working and leave for fathers. “What is said” and “what is done” become starkly different and employees base their decisions on facts, not organisations’ aspirational statements.
It’s worth remembering too that paternity leave is just one kind of flexible working arrangement for one kind of employee. If fathers fear the consequences of taking this kind of leave, what about employees caring for older relatives? What about those caring for a same-sex partner?
Organisational statements about flexibility needs to be matched with action – and who better to role model the taking of paternity leave than members of the board! As with most aspects of culture change in organisations, it needs to start at the top.
You can read the rest of the Wall Street Journal article here.