Fathers Want Parental Leave Too

As a coach and consultant, I have known many men in organizations over the years who wanted to take extended parental leave when their children were born but were discouraged from doing so. They saw the careers of their male colleagues who took parental leave derailed. They heard these colleagues discussed as “not committed to the company” and were afraid to ask for leave. Yet Noam Scheiber of the New York Times reminds us that, as Ruth Bader Ginsberg noted in the 1970s when she founded the Women’s Rights Project for the ACLU, women will “not achieve equality in the workplace as long as men [are] discouraged from taking on caregiver roles.”

Recent class-action settlements won by fathers against JPMorgan Chase and Estée Lauder are forcing changes in paid parental leave policies, which previously placed the burden of childrearing on the mother. Before the new class-action suits started to put pressure on company policies, many large organizations had discriminatory policies in place:

  • In the case of JPMorgan Chase, mothers were eligible for sixteen weeks of paid parental leave while fathers were offered only two weeks as secondary caregivers.
  • Estée Lauder had a similar policy that discriminated against the fathers of newborns.
  • In 2015, CNN was sued by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission for granting biological fathers only two weeks of paid parental leave compared to ten weeks for mothers.

A small number of companies offer long leaves to all new parents. Scheiber notes that “Hewlett Packard Enterprise recently announced that new mothers and fathers would both receive at least six months of paid leave.” Six months is unusually long in the United States. Only a minority of companies offer paid parental leave at all. In a 2018 survey by the Society of Human Resource Managers, 35 percent of respondents offered paid maternity leave, usually for a maximum of six weeks, and just under 30 percent offered paid paternity leave. In addition, only salaried workers have access to any paid parental leave. Low wage and contract workers do not have access to these benefits at all.

While the numbers of companies offering paid parental leave have been rising rapidly in recent years, many men are still reluctant to take advantage of these policies when they do become available because they fear negative repercussions. They need to hear positive stores from other men and encouragement from managers to utilize these policies.

Class-action lawsuits and multimillion-dollar settlements are a great way force change. We are moving in the right direction to support gender-neutral family policies. This is good news for all of us.

 

Photo by César Abner Martínez Aguilar on Unsplash

Work Has Changed: The Impact on Women

New research, reported by Claire Cain Miller of the New York Times, notes that while American women are more educated than ever, a smaller share of college-educated women in their early forties are working today than a decade ago. In fact, the most educated women face the biggest gender gap in seniority and pay. Miller points out that women aren’t only opting out of careers because of discrimination, a lack of childcare, or a dearth of paid family leave policies. While these factors all contribute, research by sociologists and economists has converged on a new understanding of the way the nature of work has changed and how this change disproportionately impacts women’s careers. Researchers Youngjoo Cha at Indiana University, Kim Weeden at Cornell, and Mauricio Bucca at the European University Institute explain that “new ways of organizing work reproduce old forms of inequality.” Their findings include multiple alarming statistics:

  • In the last two decades, salaried workers have earned more by working long hours. Four decades ago, people who worked fifty hours a week made less per hour than did those who worked forty hours per week. Today, people who overwork—working sixty hours a week or more—are paid a premium and those with round-the-clock availability earn disproportionally more.
  • Claudia Goldin, an economist at Harvard, notes that overwork is most extreme in managerial jobs and in the greedy professions, such as finance, law and consulting. These professions demand long, inflexible hours—which has canceled out the effects of women’s educational gains.
  • Goldin explains, “Being willing to work 50 percent more doesn’t mean you make 50 percent more, you make like 100 percent more.” Goldin notes that financial rewards for working extra long hours don’t’ have a gender gap, but far fewer women seek such rewards, particularly mothers. Someone has to take care of the children, and usually that person is the mother. She cuts back on her hours, diminishes her future earning potential, flatlines her career, and underutilizes her education so that her spouse can maximize his earning potential for the family by overworking.
  • Men are much more likely to have a spouse who is on call at home. Cha reports that three-quarters of men in the top 1 percent of earners have an at-home spouse. Just one-quarter of women in the top 1 percent of earners do. In dual-earner households in which a man worked sixty or more hours, women were three times as likely to quit their jobs.

Miller points out that highly educated women aren’t the only ones impacted by the changing nature of work. Unpredictable and inflexible hours pose a challenge to family life and careers for same-sex parents, middle-class families, and low-income workers. She notes that researchers have focused on college-educated women because they are most prepared to have big careers, but their careers tend to flatline. In dual-career families with children, when one career takes priority, it is generally the man’s.

Several factors have contributed to the overwork trend affecting women. Technology makes people more accessible at all hours; business has become more global and people are now expected to work across time zones; the wealth gap in society makes people feel less secure; employment is increasingly unstable; work has become more competitive; and working long hours is a status symbol and a way to stand out.

What can be done to change the nature of work? Goldin states that most solutions for how to close the gender gap are merely band-aids because the problem is systemic. She suggests that the very nature of work needs to change, which will only happen if people demand it. Younger men say they want more involvement in family life. Employers want to keep talent and may listen if young men start to quit. Employers may even begin to notice that they are losing out on women’s talents and training by requiring and rewarding only long and inflexible hours.

We need to start a discussion on a national level about the nature of work and how to make it more humane for everyone. Everyone will benefit if work is predictable and flexible and rewards reflect quality instead of quantity of hours, and employers will gain access to talent pools that are not available to them now.

 

Photo by Sai De Silva on Unsplash

Joblessness and the “Care Chasm”: Why Women Drop Out of the Workforce

There was a lot of focus on a dearth of middle-class jobs for men in the United States during the recent presidential election. This discussion centered on the loss of good-paying manufacturing and mining jobs for men, which have been in decline since the 1960s due to automation and globalization. Not much attention has been paid, however, to the declining number of women in the US workforce. This trend is the opposite of trends in women’s employment in other industrialized countries. What explains this difference for women in the United States? While the decline in workforce participation for working-class men began in the 1960s, the slide for women’s participation did not begin until the early 2000s. Patricia Cohen of the New York Times explains that the drop in women’s workforce participation occurred for different reasons than it did for men. During this period, women have been earning college degrees in greater numbers; also, service sector jobs, where women are traditionally concentrated, have been growing. So why have women been dropping out of the workforce? Cohen notes that we do not have the family support policies in the United States that other industrialized countries have. In fact, here “women are still the primary caregivers—for children, aging parents, and ailing relatives.” Women often cite caregiving responsibility as the reason they are unable to hold on to unstable and inflexible jobs. Cohen cites economist Nicholas Eberstadt of the American Enterprise Institute, who reports, “Hardly any men who have dropped out say it is because they are helping with children or other family members.” Eberstadt goes on to note that a “care chasm” explains the stark contrast between women’s workforce participation in the United States and their participation rate in Europe. He explains that European countries with comprehensive family support policies have seen women’s labor force participation go up since 2000, while ours has plummeted. We need to demand that our legislators support policies for affordable child care, paid family leave, elder care support, and a living wage in the United States. Family support policies are good for all of us and for our economy.   Photo courtesy of Univ. of Salford. CC by 2.0    ]]>

Hopeful News on Paid Family Leave Policies: Change Is in the Air

I have written previously about the poor representation and inhospitable climate for women in the technology sector. Only 17 percent of technology positions in the United States are filled by women. In addition to facing unconscious bias that makes it difficult to succeed, the lack of family-friendly policies also discourages women from being attracted to jobs in the technology sector. But suddenly, change is in the air. Claire Cain Miller of the New York Times reports the following:

  • Mark Zuckerberg of Facebook recently announced that he will take two months of paternity leave when his daughter is born (his company now provides four months of paid parental leave).
  • Spotify just announced they will provide six months of paid parental leave.
  • Microsoft recently doubled paid leave to twenty weeks for new mothers.
  • Netflix recently announced they will provide fully paid leave for one year for new mothers and fathers.
  • IBM, on the Working Mother’s list of family-friendly companies for thirty years, recently expanded benefits to include fertility treatments, backup childcare, and shipments of breast milk home from business trips.

Why Are These Changes Coming Now?

Several social factors are converging to create pressure for companies to change, though Stew Friedman, director of the Wharton Work/Life Integration Project at the University of Pennsylvania, cautions that it will take another 15–20 years for this movement to be complete. Here are some factors currently having a positive impact on company policies:
  • The founders of many technology companies, such as Mark Zuckerberg, are becoming parents.
  • Pressures to diversify the workforce have been intensifying. As it becomes more difficult to attract and retain talent in a tight labor market, technology companies are competing for talent by trying to offer the best benefits.
  • Millennial men and women, the largest generation in the workforce, are more likely than their predecessors to rank family obligations ahead of work.
  • Educated women are demanding paid family leave.
And most interesting of all—men are filing gender discrimination lawsuits. Joan C. Williams of the Center for WorkLife Law at the University of California Hastings College of Law explains, “suddenly men feel entitled to take time off for family. It’s revolutionary.” These lawsuits by men for the right to take parental leave without retaliation are also starting to take place beyond the technology sector.

Continuing Challenges

The implementation of paid family leave for some employees in some companies is a welcome change, and I am hopeful that this change will eventually spread to cover everyone. There are still a number of challenges to support for families that we need to be aware of:
  • Workplaces are still structured based on the model employee who has no other demands on their time (and someone at home to provide unpaid family support).
  • The number of workplace hours have increased and there is still an expectation of 24/7 availability.
  • In many companies and sectors, fathers are discouraged from adjusting their schedules or taking full paternity leave, and retaliation does occur.
  • Overall, parenthood still affects women’s careers more than men’s. Men’s decisions to take family leave are scrutinized for signals about commitment, while women are quickly written off as uncommitted as soon as they have a child.
  • Overall, the number of companies providing flexible work options or other family-friendly benefits has remained stagnant for the last five years.
  • Only 12 percent of workers in the United States have access to paid family leave.
  • There is a significant income divide in the United States. Only 5 percent of the workers in the bottom earnings quartile get paid family leave compared to 21 percent of those in the top earnings quartile.

Next Steps

Anne-Marie Slaughter, president of the research firm New America and author of Unfinished Business: Women Men Work Family, notes that while some organizations are starting to offer paid family leave and other family-friendly benefits to some of their workers, “we are not going to be able to do this (make sufficient change) one woman at a time or one company at a time, without actual legislation, policy, political action.” We need to keep the pressure on our own organizations and on our politicians as they run for office to institute policies and pass laws that value both work and family life. What is the status of paid family leave in your organization? What changes are you seeing in support for families?   Image courtesy of Ambro at FreeDigitalPhotos.net]]>