Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg announced on Friday that he planned to take a two month paternity leave when his wife Priscilla Chan gives birth to their first child, a daughter. The personal decision is being hailed as a victory for parental rights and family leave policies.
In an opinion piece today, writer Catherine Rampell writes that Zuckerberg’s announcement could be used to shape policy or at least conventional opinion on men taking longer periods off from work after their wives give birth.
New moms would attest that the extra hand is welcome and needed. Recent surveys from Society for Human Resource Management and the Families and Work Institute indicate that only 1 in 6 firms in America offer paid paternity leave outside the tech sector which is quite advanced comparatively in the parental leave area.
“But even when men are offered paid leave, they usually don’t take it, or at least not for any substantial period of time,” Rampell writes. “After California passed a law entitling most workers, both male and female, to up to six weeks of paid family leave, the average father took a whopping 7.5 days off after the birth of a child.”
Jenna McGregor, also from the post, writes in a similar piece today, “Research from Boston College’s Center for Work & Familyfound in 2011 that 76 percent of fathers are back to work within a week of a child’s birth or adoption; 96 percent return within two weeks. Last year, the same center found that less than 10 percent of fathers took six weeks or more off.”
But millenials, leading with Zuckerberg, are changing the norm. That’s because he’s helping to finally destigmatize paternity leave.
As a flip in gender roles, men today are struggling to balance work and family, and dealing with parental guilt, even more so than women.
But to do something about it and actually take paternal leave when offered? The stigma of being viewed as weak, not masculine or not committed enough to their jobs is what stops them, Rampell summarizes.
“Such stigma hurts not only those frustrated, guilt-ridden fathers, but also children and beleaguered mothers,” she continues “Research has shown that when women disproportionately take advantage of work-life accommodations, employers end up punishing women as a class, relegating them to so-called mommy tracks. Those women who do manage to hang on to demanding full-time careers are more likely to get stuck working the exhausting “second shift” at home than their male counterparts are.”
Unfair, but with more men in high profile and influential positions like Zuckerberg take extended time off, there could be a shift in mindset and eventually policy.
McGregor posits that an equal paternity leave policy could help adjust gender pay inequity too.
“Such benefits serve two functions: They help attract employees, particularly younger ones, who are more interested in sharing parenting responsibilities and improving work-life balance,” McGregor opines. “But they also make it possible for men to take the kind of leaves that could help improve the gender gap in both pay and leadership positions.”