Helping Men Care: Father’s Day is the Perfect Time to Fight for Paid Leave

Vicki Shabo

Co author: Gary Barker, Promundo President and CEO

Cross posted from Medium.

Today's dads aren't the same as their own fathers. One indication of the change is the fact that fathers in the United States have nearly tripled the time they spend caring for children since 1965. But our paternity leave policies and the uptake of leave haven't kept up with the change. It's time to press the update button.

Modern dads want to be able to care for their kids and are as likely as mothers to say they would go to similar lengths to do so. A new study from Promundo and Dove Men+Care finds that 69 percent of fathers would change jobs to spend more time with their children; and a large majority of both men and women — 85 percent — believe dads should make taking parental leave a priority.

Unfortunately, men's desires don't align with the realities of workplace policies and practices in ways that make involved fatherhood easy — or even possible — for many. For example, the new study, Helping Dads Care as well as a substantial additional body of research that includes Promundo's 2016 report, The State of America's Fathers, shows that dads are held back by outdated gender norms, misguided stereotypes and the absence of supportive workplace policies.

A large majority in this latest study — 71 percent — say their workplaces are not supportive of them taking leave and more than half (54 percent) say they don't have enough time to do everything they should with their children. This means that, too often, men are kept from being the involved caregivers they aspire to be — to the detriment of their children, their partners and their own lives.

Overcoming men's fear of stepping away from their workplaces is a barrier. The Promundo and Dove Men+Care study affirms that dads worry that their income, and their family's income, will suffer if they take parental leave. They also worry about workplace demands: 76 percent of men surveyed say they would have to work, at least a little, while taking parental leave — nearly twice the rate that mothers reported. The bottom line: Compared to working mothers, working fathers consistently perceive greater barriers not just to taking paid leave but also to being fully involved parents.

So how can we seed change to ensure that every father, no matter where he lives or works or the job he has, is able to take paid leave?

Implementing culture-changing policies and practices at worksites can make a big difference for working dads. Companies need to adopt new policies and managers need to get better at supporting their employees. The new study finds that 87 percent of managers agree that new dads should make taking paternity leave a priority, but only 59 percent of respondents think their immediate managers would be supportive of them taking parental leave. In other words, men want leave, and managers think men should take leave, but a substantial share of men don't think their own managers support them in taking leave. It seems past time to bridge that gap and establish policies and practices that make leave-taking an established norm.

Mobilizing the public is important. People in the United States have an overwhelmingly positive view of paternity leave — and this is true for men and women, managers and workers at all wage and job levels. And the vast majority of voters across the political spectrum agree that paid family and medical leave should be a priority. Public demand can help drive policy and culture changes within companies, in the states and at the federal level — and that's why it is so important for people to tell their stories about needing leave and to ask business leaders and policymakers to be leaders on this issue.

Leaning into research that confirms the benefits of paid leave is also critical. Paid parental leave for men has obvious and proven benefits for fathers, families, businesses and the economy. Paid parental leave for men also promotes child development and family well-being, increases women's workforce participation and makes fathers less likely to use public assistance in the year following their child's birth. We must ensure that companies and policymakers know about and understand the implications of this research.

Building on private sector and public policy successes to advance national-level change is key. Fortunately, more and more major companies and a handful of states are taking steps to increase access to paid leave, which sets an important example and leads the way on family leave policies. Still, even with that progress, only 15 percent of workers have access to paid family leave through their jobs — and that figure has barely budged in recent years, while inequalities in access by job type and wage level have grown.

Adopting a strong, comprehensive national policy will help tens of millions of men, women and families. That's why our two organizations support a national policy that covers all working people, regardless of where they live or work or what type of job they have. Any national proposal must provide sufficient wage replacement and a meaningful amount of time for people to meet their health and care needs. It should protect workers from employer retaliation and it should be funded sustainably. A national paid leave program should recognize that fathers are also sons and partners and it should cover the full range of caregiving and medical needs, from babies to partners with health needs to elderly parents. A gender-neutral, inclusive paid leave policy would not just increase access to paid leave — it would help to drive culture change that supervisors and managers could also help to foster within workplaces.

The Family And Medical Insurance Leave (FAMILY) Act is the only proposal before Congress that checks all the boxes. Other proposals that provide parents-only leave at wage replacement levels that are too low or undermine important social programs like Social Security are insufficient and could actually do more harm than good.

This Father's Day, we're embracing the many roles fathers play, including as hands-on caregivers. It's high time to do all we can to provide them with the workplace supports they need to fulfill that role. After you write that Father's Day card for dad, spend the day with your father or remember special moments that you and your father or an important father-figure spent together, do one more thing this year: Tell your senators and representative to take action to pass a real national paid family and medical leave policy like the FAMILY Act!

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