The Mainstreaming of Paternity Leave

Mark McGraw at HRE looks at data showing that more fathers and would-be fathers are putting a premium on paternity leave:

Take a recent Boston College Center for Work & Family survey of 1,029 fathers, for instance. The poll asked how important paid paternity leave would be to them if they were considering a new job, and were contemplating having another child at some point in the future. Sixty percent of responding dads described it as “extremely” or “very” important, with 29 percent saying they felt it was “somewhat” important. … The Hartford’s recent Millennial Parenthood Survey found 52 percent of millennial men between the ages of 18 and 33 saying they intend to take more than two weeks off after the birth of a baby.

But employers haven’t quite caught on to the trend yet:

The Society for Human Resource Management’s 2014 Employee Benefits Survey, for example, saw 12 percent of employers currently offering paid paternity leave to employees, with just 1 percent of the 510 HR professionals polled saying their companies planned to start offering paid paternity leave in the coming year.

By contrast, Claire Scullin in Personnel Today highlights some new research from the UK suggesting that the British workforce is having the opposite problem: Employers are making an effort to expand their paternity leave offerings, but employees aren’t taking advantage of them. And why not? Mainly, it seems that men are worried that taking parental leave will make them look bad:

The research by My Family Care and Hogan Lovells revealed that 60% of HR directors had received few or no requests for shared parental leave, with the biggest reason for the slow uptake being the belief among fathers that it would be “frowned upon” or “career-limiting” to do so. … However, despite the limited take-up, 43% of employers are making strides to enhance paternity leave in line with their maternity offerings, and 33% are considering doing so after examining the possible financial impact, the study found. Only 12% say they do not intend to do so.

Both of these cases are good examples of how “pro-women” policies are good for employees of both genders. The stigma attached to taking time off to care for a baby will ring familiar to many working mothers, but as shared parental leave becomes the norm, perhaps eventually no one will bat an eye at employees taking advantage of it. On the other hand, it will be interesting to see whether fathers who go on paternity leave find that it limits their careers as it has for many women. In any case, mainstreaming shared parental leave will be a welcome development for working parents of both sexes, and should have a positive impact on workplace diversity as well—after all, if both mothers and fathers are equally likely to demand time off to care for their children, that’s one less excuse for managers to avoid hiring or promoting women.