Sticking it to stigma - why industry's men need parental leave
A recent New York Times article addresses the issue of why men don’t take parental leave, the stigma they face and the significant benefits reaped when they do – including reducing incidences of divorce and developing better relationships with their children. The article, based on several research papers and US statistics, also explores how to make parental leave the norm for men, written through the eyes of a father’s first-hand experience (NYT).
- Many men who take parental leave tend to be stigmatised and viewed as less committed employees. In California, when the paid family leave law changed, men only took an average of two to three days parental leave.
- Various research reveals that when fathers take parental leave it provides lasting benefits, not only to relationships between fathers and their children, but also to mothers, and the relationships between the parents.
- It’s been found that even nine years after their birth, children whose fathers take at least two weeks of paternity leave report feeling closer to their dads, compared to those whose father didn’t take leave.
- Even when fathers take short periods of leave, the risk of divorce between couples falls, and remains significantly lower for as many as six years later, even as their children reach school age.
- A recent study from Sweden found that mothers whose partners were offered flexible paid leave in the year after a child’s birth were less likely to need antibiotics and anti-anxiety medication.
- Quebec introduced a ‘Daddy quota’ – a non-transferable, use-it-or-lose-it paid parental leave of five weeks within two years. It was found that fathers that used parental leave continued to spend more time on household work. Their increased involvement in the household and caring for their children appeared to free up more time for mothers to pursue their own professional ambition.
We have come some way in reducing gender inequality in the workplace by enabling women access to the same opportunities as men – through cultural change, paid parental leave policies, recruitment processes, development programs and flexible working arrangements.
But in order to continue on this journey we need to widen our focus by changing the conversation with fathers, and providing them with better access to parental leave.
By doing so we will be edging closer to creating inclusive, accepting workplaces that provide equal opportunity to men and women to thrive both at work and at home.
If we do not, the impact on families, mothers and the wider community will deepen.
In Australia, we are one step ahead of the US in relation to access to parental leave for fathers. The Australian Government provides access to dads and partners of up to two weeks paid parental leave (based on the national minimum wage), unlike in America. Many Australian organisations have ‘secondary carer’ leave that enables fathers to take time out. However, the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) shows that just one in 20 fathers take primary parental leave, with 95% of all primary carers leave taken by mothers.
What we’ve found at Publicis Groupe is the introduction of ‘parental leave swap’ helps fathers create a beneficial situation between work and home. This can then positively affect mothers by creating the opportunity to pursue their career. According to the Australian Institute of Family Studies’ Fathers and Work: A statistical Overview paper published this year, when women return to work after having children it tends to be part time, while there’s little change in men’s employment patterns – with very few men working part-time. Mothers and fathers still tend to have gendered roles when it comes to work activities after they become parents.
In the Media Federation of Australia’s latest Industry Census report, it was found that in our industry men made up 67 per cent of CEO/MD/GM roles, compared to 33 per cent of women.
In order for women rise to more senior ranks and have a successful, fulfilling career, we need to create a more equitable environment. To move towards gender equality, we need to provide better parental leave access to men, as well as access to flexible and part-time work.
I’ve personally experienced the effect of my husband having played an active role in the care for our children, both through extended parental leave and flexible/part-time working arrangements. The space and opportunities this has created for me personally and professionally, and the positive impact on our family has been immense.
The stigma and bias around fathers taking extended leave, working part time or flexibly is alive and kicking in the Australian workplace.
We need to change the conversations or lack thereof that currently exists.
In many organisations, this requires significant cultural change, leaders speaking out loud and leading by example – and supporting the introduction of progressive parental leave and a flexibility approach that sustains the change.
Until we do this, we will continue to stagnate on gender inequality and the societal and family benefits with not be realised.