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Don't Call It Paternity Leave: Destigmatizing Parental Leave for Dads

Robin Benoit | State Street Corporation

June 14,2018

At State Street, paid leave for all new parents in the US is simply called "parental leave" so that it clearly applies to men and women, same-sex spouses and adoptive parents.

We believe that all parents should have the opportunity to focus on their child in the early days of parenthood. Why does the nomenclature matter so much? Because "as soon as you label it maternity or paternity leave, you're weighing one as more important than the other," explains author and work-life balance expert Samantha Ettus.

Beyond Machismo

The reality is that even as more employers like State Street offer parental leave benefits to men, dads-to-be are often nervous about taking weeks off to spend with their newborns. A surveyby Deloitte found that 57 percent of men felt that taking parental leave would be seen as "a lack of commitment to the job." Even the Department of Labor reported2 that “Here in the United States where parental leave is already too rare, social and cultural biases along with gaps in policy make fathers even less able to access time away from work for their children.”

Simon Isaacs, co-founder of Fatherly, a lifestyle site for dads, says part of the challenge for new dads is that men don't have much history to fall back on with respect to parental leave. "While things are certainly changing and changing rapidly, the men who are taking leave, especially more extensive leave, now are kind of the first class of men doing so," Isaacs says.

As the Deloitte survey suggests, men worry that taking leave will hurt their careers. The aforementioned Department of Labor brief reported that “Even where men have access to paid leave, they might still cut their leaves short to avoid being perceived as less dedicated employees.” The report found that 70 percent of new fathers take only 10 days off after the birth of a child. In financial services, the stigma can be especially strong, Isaacs says. Though large financial firms today tout some of the best parental leave policies available, the industry is also known for a culture of competition and "machismo." Men may be concerned "that taking leave makes them less of a leader, less of a worker, or less of a man," Isaacs says.

Men worry that taking leave will hurt their careers.

Peter Brown Jr., an assistant vice president at State Street, took eight weeks off to care for his infant son last year, bucking the national statistics associated with paternity leave. Brown was so grateful for the chance to develop a deeper connection with his son, Theodore, that he wrote a post to an internal company forum praising parental leave for men.

Brown knows the competitive nature of finance well. But the notion of parental leave as somehow unmanly? He says that's something he didn't encounter in his office. A number of his male colleagues and superiors had already taken advantage of State Street's parental leave benefit before Brown's own son was born – the stigma had already been lessened.

Isaacs and other experts say one of the most effective ways to combat the parental leave stigma is for male company leaders to "walk the talk" and take parental leave themselves. "It comes from the top," says Ettus. "It's like vacation policy: If your manager never takes a vacation, then you don't feel comfortable taking vacation either."

"It felt very normal and natural due to our company culture," Brown says. "Having seen so many other colleagues take their full leave, especially men, I thought, 'Of course I'm going to take the entire 8 weeks to be with my son.’”

Celebrating Fatherhood

Josh Fine, vice president of people operations at Care.com and a strategic consultant for Care's enterprise business, suggests that companies should celebrate new dads the same way they do new moms. "Throw baby showers for new dads. It’s not uncommon for new moms around the office to be showered by their co-workers, but you don’t see that as often for new dads," Fine says. "Celebrating your employees’ fatherhood does a lot to destigmatize parental leave for fathers."

Companies would also benefit from training managers to help teams transition when a member, male or female, is going on leave or coming off of it. "Having detailed hand-off documentation, points of contacts and everything squared away makes parental leave far less disruptive for those in the office," Fine says. It can also help new parents feel less stressed about their time away and eventual return to the office.

"The days are long raising a newborn, but the years will fly by," Brown wrote in his message to fellow employees. "I will always remember that State Street gave me the best eight weeks I could ask for."

Brown took two weeks of leave when Theodore was born and another six weeks of leave as the boy approached his six-month milestone. He says his team did a good job handling workflow while he was away and he didn't feel pressured to sacrifice time with his son just to stay in the loop. Instead, he filled his days pushing Theodore in his stroller, preparing and feeding him meals, and tackling the hard yet soul-nourishing work that almost every stay-at-home parent, man or woman, temporary or full-time, does.

1. Purushothaman, D. (2017, May 16). Parental leave survey: Parental leave for a new generation | Deloitte US | Press release. Retrieved from https://www2.deloitte.com/us/en/pages/about-deloitte/articles/press-releases/deloitte-survey-parental-leave.html?id=us:2sm:3tw:4dcom_share:5awa:6dcom:about_deloitte 

2. DOL POLICY BRIEF, Paternity Leave - Why Parental Leave For Fathers Is So Important For Working Families | Retrieved from https://www.dol.gov/asp/policy-development/PaternityBrief.pdf

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Topics: Flexible Work


Robin Benoit | State Street Corporation

Robin Benoit is Managing Director, Head of Global Benefits, at State Street Corporation and is responsible for overseeing all employee benefits, retirement plans, and wellness programs worldwide.