Why We Need to Support Working Dads
I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about the conditions for mothers in the workplace. Recently though, I realized that in order to make real progress for work/life issues for women, you have to think about the conditions for both moms and dads. If we want more dads to be involved, we have to make it feasible for dads to participate in their children’s activities, which means that we need to have a culture change: workplaces have to make it ok for male parents to take time to do the tasks that many times are considered “mom duties” such as taking care of a sick child or attending school-related activities. It’s also important for children to see that dads are involved. The norm needs to change… the norm should be involved fathers, not the opposite.
Why should working moms care about this? Don’t we have enough on our plates? Well, we should care because by improving working conditions for dads, we benefit as well. Liz O’Donnell, author of Mogul, Mom & Maid explains:
“Several of the women in Mogul, Mom & Maid told me that their husbands had flexible work situations and that made life easier for the women because they had a more equal partner at home. Men and women have to work together to create more flex-friendly environments. And to do that, we need to recognize that there are gender biases when it comes to accessing flex. Men may feel like they can’t ask for family-time. Women may feel like their managers assume they are on the mommy track. If we take the reasons for flex out of the equation, we can strip away some of those biases. Everybody wins when men ask for the same flex women have been asking for.
If we want equity we cannot only look at one side. The days when men were the breadwinners and women stayed home are long gone. We’ve heard the statistics: women are now more than ever before entering the workforce and 40 percent of women are the breadwinners in their homes. The problem is that they are not only in the workforce outside the home, but they also take on most of the child rearing and often perform most of the tasks at home. (I should note here that in my house, my husband is the much better cook and keeps a much neater house than I do…) Dads are now changing diapers and reading bedtime stories, and are definitely more involved than dads in previous generations…. However, we need a societal shift in the way dads are seen, and that hasn’t happened yet.
How can we make that happen?
First, we have to make it culturally acceptable for fathers to take paternity leave. That’s right. PATERNITY leave. Men have every right to be part of the early days of their children’s lives, without getting flak from employers or friends. Because meetings come and go but your kid’s birth will only happen once—and the kid’s not waiting for you. Do you remember when Daniel Murphy, a Mets player, had to DEFEND his request to take THREE days off for the birth of his son? Do you remember how he was bashed? How critics said he should’ve demanded his wife schedule a C-section? That is what is wrong… work seems so important, even more important than family.
Second, we have to make it culturally acceptable for fathers to have an active role in their children’s lives… What does this mean? That we need to be accepting that men can parent as well, it’s not only a women’s role, and a man is not less “manly” for doing it. We need to stop criticizing fathers who want to be more involved. It is not only a mom’s job to take a sick kid to the doctor or to attend her child’s end of year recital. Dads have the right to do those kinds of activities with kids. Sadly, even in environments considered progressive, this acceptance is far from reality: I recently read this perspective from Isaac (Yitzi) Zablocki, the Director of Film Programming at The JCC in Manhattan. He reflects on being a working dad, and had this to say:
“I am one of the few male programmers at the JCC and have always considered our work environment to be somewhat of the antithesis to Mad Men. It is true that at times I feel like an outsider, but ultimately, I am proud to be part of a modern, pluralistic, and equal opportunity society. The classic terms of parenthood have been tossed out the window, and we’ve made ways for single parents, same-sex parents, and other modern reconfigurations. So you can imagine why I was so surprised to find that when it came to parenting roles, we still live in an unequal society. Even in 2014 on the Upper West Side, one of the most progressive communities in the world, I find myself to be one of the few equally engaged fathers.”
Zablocki goes on to explain that people were “baffled” by the term paternity leave, (he documented his on Facebook!) and that he was the only man in new parent groups. He says that he rarely saw fathers with their kids on weekdays. “I think it is time we pursue our careers and be engaged parents—just like the strong women around us are trying to do on a daily basis.”
Changes Parents (both moms and dads!) need in the workplace:
More flexibility in the workplace. I’ve said this before, and I will say it until I’m blue in the face… Parents need flexibility. Children need flexibility. Fathers should be able to take some time or rearrange their schedule in order to take their kids to appointments or attend a school event. These moments are the moments that parents will remember. Children will also remember that both parents were able to attend their school function.
We need to rethink schedules… In this day and age, where we can video conference, share documents instantly, etc… why is it that so many companies still feel the need to force employees to be in offices for such long hours? Are we really being more productive? (Answer: we are not. Just ask the employees in countries which are as productive as we are here in the USA, but enjoy much more leisure time.) Studies have actually shown that companies that provide flexibility have lower turnover, higher retention and more efficient and dedicated employees.
According to a Modern Dads Survey: 75 percent of dads call fatherhood their “most important job.”
Dads want to be more involved now. So, let’s let them. Women are always in the search of “work-life” balance… dads want it as well. They don’t want to go to the office at 7 am and come back and 10 pm, long after their children are asleep. Does anyone REALLY need to work 60-70 hours a week? (Answer: NO. not really.)
More good news: The White House just held a conference where they explored the question of work-life balance for dads. Officials said they are seeking to end the outdated stereotypes of fathers. One of the panelists, Scott Behson, one of the panelists at the conference, a management professor who also published a blog called “Fathers, Work and Family” said at an interview by the Daily Beast, “The code of silence around the ‘open secret’ of involved fatherhood is finally breaking down. In large part, I think we have working moms to thank. We are all recognizing that the equality of women at work is inextricably tied to the equality of men as parents.”
Check out the White House‘s findings here.
I agree. I believe the more working dads call themselves “working dads” and want to be more active their children’s lives, the more we can reach equity in parenting; and perhaps one day, even that pesky wage gap will disappear. And do you know who will benefit the most from improved working conditions for moms and dads? The children, isn’t that what we want?
So, dads and soon-to-be dads: don’t be afraid to ask for paternity leave, (and take it if it is available!), to ask for flexibility and MAKE SURE you attend your child’s birth, and school events, and anything you can… because it goes by quickly and because you will probably not remember the PowerPoint presentation you missed out on, but you will DEFINITELY remember how your kid’s face lit up when he saw you!