Do Men Deserve Paid Paternity Leave? More Companies Say ‘Yes’

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Life just got a tiny bit easier for new parents who work for Goldman Sachs. The investment banking firm recently announced that it was doubling the amount of paid paternity leave it offered fathers, from two weeks to four weeks.

The month off that new fathers and other “non-primary caregivers” at Goldman Sachs receive is brief compared to the 16 weeks of maternity leave the company offers its female employees. But it’s still a step forward in terms of making it easier for new dads to take time away from the office to bond with their family.

Studies have shown that families benefit when dads take paternity leave. Men who took time off after the birth of a baby were more likely to take an active role in their children’s lives even after they returned to work, the Economist reported. Their kids tend to do better in school. And their wives are less likely to experience a drop in earnings when childcare responsibilities are more equally shared between both parents.

There’s just one problem. Men who take paternity leave may be more likely to take a hit at work in the form of decreased earnings or lost promotions. When Erin Reid, a professor of organizational behavior at Boston University, studied the culture at one consulting firm, she found that many men felt pressure to prove that they were working long hours, even if that meant sacrificing time with family.

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One junior manager Reid interviewed took a six-week paternity leave, but he was later denied a promotion and criticized for taking that time off from work during his annual review. While men who took paternity leave or requested other family accommodations reported being “punished” for such behavior, taking lengthy vacations was actually encouraged, perhaps because that time away allowed employees to recharge and thus perform better at work. Family responsibilities, on the hand, were seen as a distraction, at least for male employees Reid explained in an article published in the Harvard Business Review.

Not every company has the high-pressure culture that the consulting firm Reid studied did. But relatively few businesses embrace paid paternity leave. About 12% of companies offer such a benefit (the same percentage that offer paid maternity leave), according to the Society for Human Resource Management. That’s down from 17% in 2010. And even when companies do offer men the option for time off, they may not take full advantage of it.

While 89% of new dads took some time off work after their wives or partners gave birth, two-thirds took a week or less, the New York Times reported. “There is still some stigma about men who say, ‘My kids are more important than my work,’” Scott Coltrane, a sociologist who studies fatherhood, told the Times.

But attitudes about paternity leave may be shifting, especially among younger workers. Eighty-nine percent of fathers said that it was important for employers to offer paid paternity leave, according to a 2014 study by Boston College’s Center for Work & Family. Millennial fathers were more likely to rank paid leave as an important benefit than baby boomers and were also more likely to favor longer periods of leave.

father with baby

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A handful of companies seem to be getting the message that paid paternity leave is something that their employees value. Fatherly, a website for young dads, recently ranked the 50 best companies for fathers. Two tech companies came out on top: Google and Facebook. But several companies in industries like banking and finance also ranked high, including Goldman Sachs, Bank of America, and Deloitte.

The reality is that the old model of a male breadwinner and a stay-at-home mom is no longer the reality for many families (if it every really was). Both men and women are demanding more flexibility and accommodations from their employers and in some cases, companies are meeting their requests. Those companies that do offer more generous benefits for parents may simply see it as the cost of doing business and keeping top employees happy.

“Working fathers must find creative ways to manage new responsibilities at home, at work, and in their communities,” wrote Stew Friedman, a professor at the Wharton School of Business, in a post on Fatherly’s blog. “Forward-thinking companies … understand that recruiting top talent and keeping their existing employees engaged means that business can’t just be about business anymore.”

Follow Megan on Twitter @MeganE_CS

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