At employees' request, parental benefits are on the rise. Over the past few years, major organizations like Facebook, Morgan Stanley, and IBM have beefed up their policies. It's safe to say that right now is the best time in history to be a working parent -- in theory.
Unfortunately, a policy doesn't constitute practice. Although they have more company-supported time than ever before, men are hesitant to use it.
In a Deloitte survey, fewer than half of respondents thought their company fostered an environment in which men felt comfortable taking parental leave. In fact, 57 percent of men said exercising their right to parental leave would be perceived as a lack of commitment to their careers. Welcome to the world of being a mother.
Research like this suggests that although we have the right policies, there are still many stigmas that need to be addressed. And I'll be the first to admit that I'm guilty.
Through its unconscious bias training, Google steered employees to a resource called Project Implicit. Project Implicit is an initiative through Harvard that seeks to educate and heighten awareness around implicit biases, through a series of different implicit-association tests on gender, race, age, etc.
To see if I had any subconscious biases, I decided to take the gender test. To be completely honest with you, I picked this test because I thought I'd crush it. I grew up with a working mother, my parents shared responsibilities, my wife is a doctor and the bread-winner in our family, and I've had women bosses throughout my career. I thought there was no way I could have any unfounded role associations or biases regarding gender. I was wrong.
The test revealed that I had an underlying bias toward women being in more family-related roles than men. And, if I'm being completely honest, I remember having reservations about exercising the paternity policy at my organization. The crazy thing is, I'm part of the department that implemented it.
So, if we're going to break the stigma, we're going to need more than just a policy. To encourage more dads to take advantage of their paternity policies, a couple of things need to happen.
1. Organizations need to provide an extra push and leaders need to practice what they preach.
On an organizational level, it's important to educate your team on what benefits are available, and more importantly, encourage employees to take advantage of them. Explain eligibility, usage rights, and the positive outcomes of your policies. For example, research shows that employees who use paternal leave come back more engaged and productive, and miss less work. Also, it helps a new father foster better relationships with both the baby and the mother.
However, it's hard for employees to feel comfortable taking leave when they don't see their leaders doing the same. In Facebook's case, it was a powerful statement when Mark Zuckerberg decided to take two months' leave to be at home with his wife and family. A Business Insider article captured a quote from Zuckerberg that was originally shared on Facebook: "I'll take a month off to be with Priscilla (Chan) and the girls at the beginning, and then we'll spend the whole month of December together as well."
In cases like this, actions speak louder than words.
2. Dads need to understand how important their presence is at home.
Research shows that longer paternity leaves are associated with increased father engagement and bonding. Increased engagement leads to better health and development outcomes for children. Studies have also revealed that more active and engaged fathers have stronger family relationships, decreased divorce rates, and more successful partners.
Long story short, it's time for dads to share in the "mommy-guilt." Your families need you.
It's great to see the increase in organizational support of paternity leave policies. However, to change stigmas and re-balance parenting responsibilities, dads need to feel like they can take time to be with their families.