Much has been written over the past 50+ years regarding the growth of women in the workplace and the associated cultural shift that has driven a fundamental change in the way gender roles are viewed both in the office and at home. While the majority of research, study, and analysis has focused on the challenges working mothers face, more recent surveys have begun looking into the changes fathers have experienced and the difficulties they encounter as they try to balance work and family commitments.
Indeed, from a series of studies conducted by the Boston College Center for Work and Family (CWF) to the advocacy of Scott Behson (Founder of Fathers, Work, and Family), there is much discussion going on now about increased pressure on fathers to juggle children and their careers. The overwhelming conclusion is that work-life needs are no longer gender specific; mothers and fathers both require the same flexibility and support in the workplace, and it is in the best interest of employers to create policies and practices that produce a more family-friendly atmosphere.
Gone are the days of fathers as lone breadwinners arriving home at 5 p.m. and putting up their feet as the mother of the household prepares dinner and minds the children. The separation of duties between parents nowadays is not nearly so clear-cut.
While fathers are still the sole or primary income providers for 85% of dual-parent households, dads in the 21st century have tripled the amount of time they spend caring for their children and do twice as much housework compared to a generation ago, one in 14 fathers with kids under 18 are single parents (7x as many as 1970), and 20% of children in daycare list a dad as their primary caregiver. The most striking statistic of all, however, is that working dads are now more likely to report work-family conflict than working moms (60% to 47%).
Taking into account the fact that the US is one of the few countries that doesn’t guarantee paid maternity leave, it’s not surprising that paternity leave is not widely offered. According to the Institute of Women’s Policy Research (IWPR), approximately 35% of large employers provide paid maternity leave but less than 20% offer paid paternity leave.
Another study by IWPR of the 100 most family-friendly companies as chosen by Working Mother magazine showed that, even in this subset of businesses dedicated to offering flexibility for parents, the amount of leave was not on par with other places throughout the world. 70% of these companies provided as many as 6 weeks of paid leave for new mothers (less than a quarter offered 12 weeks). For new fathers and adoptive parents, only 7% and 9%, respectively, provided 6 weeks of paid leave. Compare that with some of the more generous countries around the world such as Sweden and Norway, which offer more than a year combined paid time off for new mothers and fathers. When it comes to leave for new parents (mothers or fathers), the US has some work to do to catch up with the rest of the globe.
Now that men have expanded their roles as caregivers at home, many would like increased flexibility at work. Surveys of new dads completed by Boston College CWF showed that working fathers often utilize options such as flextime, compressed workweeks, or telecommuting on an informal basis to spend more time with their children, but very few (less than 20%) have formal arrangements via company policy. To attract and retain valuable employees who happen to also be working dads, progressive companies should consider creating flexibility programs to give their employees the freedom to attend to personal and family matters without feeling like they will be accused of “slacking off” or neglecting their work responsibilities.
In addition to their conclusions regarding flexibility for working fathers, the Boston College CWF found that the most important change in the workplace for dads is the need for employer support. Many companies still adhere to outdated notions of fatherhood and motherhood or refuse to acknowledge that gender roles have changed dramatically over the past few decades. The majority of US households with children have dual-earner parents who share responsibility for bringing in income and taking care of the kids. Employers need to recognize this and give mothers and fathers the flexibility required to maintain a proper work-life balance.
To truly be family friendly, companies must understand the needs of working dads by asking them directly rather than relying on stereotypes and assumptions about their duties at home. By encouraging men to utilize the family leave policies traditionally available to working mothers, providing formal work flexibility programs for all team members, and promoting a culture that allows men to embrace their roles as fathers and the changes that will mean for their careers, employers will generally find that these practices lead to higher morale, less turnover, happier employees, and improved productivity.