Convincing companies to offer paid paternity leave is challenging. But convincing male employees to actually take it and use all that’s available to them? Much tougher.
My third child is due in September. I just found out my employer, IBM, changed its policy and is now giving dads and domestic partners six weeks of paid parental leave. This is excellent news — both for me personally and dads as a whole. Yet when I announced the good news on social media, one of the first things someone said to me was “That’s cool. But you’re not gonna use all six weeks, right? No way I could get away with that.”
And I realized how far we still have to go on this issue.
While 89% of men say employers should offer paid paternity leave, according to the Boston College Center for Work and Family, those men don’t always take it. In most cases that’s because only 12% of US companies offer paid paternity leave, and very few people these days can afford to take unpaid FMLA. But even when companies make fully paid paternity leave available to employees, many men are still hesitant. Unfortunately, they have good reasons.
Surveys have shown men who actively and publicly prioritize family over work are subject to pay decreases, demotions, mistreatment on the job, and even job loss. Risking that career success and the income that provides for your family is scary, especially for men who are the sole breadwinner (as I am). Add to that a culture that says men are only men if they work their fingers to the bone and taking time off for family matters is for women, and you have a potentially menacing situation.
But I don’t care and I’m willing to risk it. I hope dads at IBM (and elsewhere) feel the same, because it’s worth the risk. Why? In order for paid parental leave to become commonplace, men who have it available to them need to take it — all of it — and make an unequivocally bold statement that family comes first.
With more dads than ever seeking to be hands-on parents and simultaneously feeling the pangs that work/life conflicts bring, now is the time for action.
We need to take all of our available leave because studies show fathers who are heavily involved right from their child’s birth, are much more likely to stay involved as time passes. And children with involved fathers have been shown to perform better in school, avoid drugs and alcohol, get arrested less, and delay sexual activity.
Furthermore, paternity leave doesn’t just benefit men. In fact, its biggest beneficiaries might be women.
When men are doing more household and childcare duties at home, it frees up women to reenter the workforce and cut down on the so called “Second Shift” working mothers endure. In fact, a mother’s future earnings increase by 7% for every month of leave taken by the father. So while dads take a more egalitarian role at home, they are actually helping to strengthen the number of women in the workforce while simultaneously doing their part to bridge the gender wage gap.
Lastly, it’s not just people who benefit from paternity leave. Companies that offer paid leave to parents might struggle while the employees are gone, but happier workers stay at their jobs and the savings via employee retention far exceeds any short-term difficulties. This also enables companies to attract top-tier talent when positions do have to be filled, as many workers clamor to be part of an organization that invests in the happiness and well-being of its rank and file workers.
So now I have six weeks of paid leave I can take in September. Although my team and managers are very supportive, there’s always a chance I could face some unspoken penalty for taking my full leave. There’s a chance this impacts my bonus or my being promoted.
But you know what? It’s worth it.
Within minutes of finding out about the policy change, I emailed my managers and requested the full six weeks off. I might take it all at once after the baby is born, or I might stagger it. But either way, I’m using it.
I’m going to bond with my baby. I’m going to wake up with my wife for every feeding. I’m going to learn which cry means “I’m hungry” and which cry means “change my diaper.” I’m going to help my wife with our other two kids, including my oldest who could have his first day of 2nd grade while we’re in the delivery room. I’m going to be as involved as possible because dads are equal partners in parenting, not glorified babysitters.
I’m going to take my leave as publicly as possible. I’m going to write about it and chronicle it on these pages. I’m going to talk to my male coworkers whose partners are expecting, and urge them to take all six weeks too. As one of a select few who have the privilege of taking this time off, I feel that’s my duty. I view it as my responsibility to help make paternity leave normal instead of shameful. To be proud of being a family man instead of doing it on the sly or worried it might cost me my job.
More companies like IBM are being progressive in offering paid leave, and that’s great. Now it’s up to dads to step up to the plate and make our priorities known. So if you don’t have paid leave, advocate for it. And if you have it, take it. All of it.
You won’t regret it.
For more on this important topic, these two recently released books are absolutely essential. And better yet, both authors are friends of mine. And damn good fathers to boot.