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How Men Can Help Advance the Position of Women in the Workplace Through leaves

By Tyler Wray

February 2021

How does paternity leave impact gender equality? It’s no secret that women have fought for gender equality in the workplace for decades. Despite substantial progress in recent years, researchers estimate that the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic may have set that progress back several decades. Economists estimate that in 2020, the wage gap has been widening toward where it was nearly 20 years ago. Women are leaving the workforce at four times the rate of men. The gap has largely been tied to women stepping away from their careers to start families, or to pass on, or are generally overlooked for promotions due to the stigma that comes with being the assumed primary caregiver. 

To think this is just an issue for women is a wrong. The equality gap impacts everyone and creates undue burden on men who wish to take an active role. In order to change the status quo, it will require an involved effort from male colleagues and leaders. For example, researchers have found that historically men tend to show up as allies by vocally supporting and acknowledging gender inequality, but fail to  effectively take action to reinforce their beliefs. The good news is there are actionable steps that can be taken to support overall gender equality in the workplace.

Proclaim their own family priorities

Involved parents often face conflicts between their work and personal lives. In order to support their family, parents may require time away from work. This often comes with a stigma that a person cannot be both a good parent and and an employee. Instead of quietly leaving or creating an excuse to leave the office early, men should embrace their decisions to prioritize family responsibilities over their work. Normalizing this conversation when they are missing work is imperative. Whether to take care of a sick child or leaving to go to a soccer game, it starts to weave in transparency and inclusivity of the nuclear family responsibility. By boldly embracing the commitment to family it can help reduce the stigma for other parents in the company. This is most impactful to women who often feel a distinct societal pressure as caregivers that can interfere with work.

Be transparent about family responsibilities

Sharing familial duties with coworkers and take the time necessary to fulfill those obligations. A survey, found that 51% of working dads occasionally hide their parenting responsibilities because they fear their colleagues won’t understand. An example of this being that  men generally do not take the full parental or paternity leave that is offered. Leave is something men have not historically taken full advantage of. Also, failing to request flextime arrangements to support a partner’s career and household duties. By publicly embracing these benefits, men can help to destigmatize the utilization of these benefits. Ultimately, this will help to unlink the “motherhood penalty” for women trying to build their careers and families simultaneously.

Dedicate time for mentorship

Whether your company has a formal mentorship program or not, set regular time aside to check in with the female mentees. This is also a great opportunity to develop new mentoring relationships with women whose mentors may have recently left the workspace or have not developed any mentoring relationships yet. Ideally, these conversations should be used to create open channels of communication, experiences,  and validate the challenges and concerns faced by professional women. Moreover, it is an opportunity to open doors that otherwise may be inaccessible, and most importantly to listen.

Champion flexible work and inclusive benefits

Men hold roughly 75% of C-suite jobs and are the key to lending strong support to initiatives. Initiatives like paid parental leave, creative remote work arrangements, and childcare support. These benefits can be hugely beneficial to many employees across the company.  Encouraging and modeling the utilization of these benefits by senior leaders and male employees can further destigmatize the benefits for all.

Advocate for specific attraction and retention efforts for women

Women have been disproportionately affected by the pandemic to date and have left the workforce at alarming rates. When recruiters find themselves able to hire and replenish their depleted staff, benefits that support women in the workplace should be emphasized. Large amounts of talent were lost from the pool of women who were impacted due to COVID-19  and childcare. Focused strategy and effort should be a focus to help women return to the workforce. Additionally, male leaders have a responsibility to revisit their benefits packages and ensure that they are inclusive across genders and appealing to attracting and retaining professional women.

Creating a culture of Acceptance

Let’s take a closer look at actually applying some of these tips. In an article with the Harvard Business Review, Tim Allen, CEO of Care.Com, shared some of his own personal experiences after becoming a parent.  After becoming a father to twins, Tim describes his inability to fully step away from his role as CEO. He continually took calls, answered emails, and reviewed reports while he was away. Eventually this led him to returning to work before his paternity leave was up. This is not an uncommon finding among fathers in the U.S. According to the U.S. Department of Labor, about 70% of men tend to return to work after 10 days. Among the top reasons cited for doing so- unsupportive leadership. Tim recognized that working on leave and not taking the full benefit he was failing to be a supportive spouse, an involved parent, and a business leader representing the best interests of his people. While benefits may be in place,  disconnects between the written policies and supportive culture can create problems with utilization. 

As a result of his own experience, Tim has taken an active role as a leader in destigmatizing the use of family benefits. He encourages other leaders in his company to follow his lead. Now Tim makes sure to emphasize that he is a father first and expects others to do the same. For Tim, that meant reminding a colleague who was supposed to be on vacation to stop joining Zoom calls and spend time with his family. It also means being vulnerable, honest, and empathetic about life as a parent. Generally, Tim has worked to set a new standard as a leader. It is ok to prioritize family and that you will not be punished for utilizing the family benefits the company has in place. 

What's next?

It will take joint effort of both men and women to halt gender inequality and income disparities  going forward. It is up to organizations to take a look at the benefits offered. This includes leave benefits and culture to identify areas of opportunity as their workforce remains virtual or shifts back to the office. As men in the workplace destigmatize how we utilize time, it will pave the way for greater strides in normalizing and advancing gender equality in the workplace. 


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