The widespread closing of schools and traditional workplaces in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic has upended our collective perception of normal. With students at home, parents are taking on added responsibilities of balancing work and childcare in real-time. It is tempting to think that COVID-19 has been the sole cause of a public reckoning when it comes to parental care and leave, but that would be false. As much as COVID-19 has become the focus of these (and other) disruptions, it is not enough to stop there.
If anything, COVID-19 has been the great accelerator of established trends and patterns in our society. The role and responsibilities of men in direct relationship to being fathers and what that means in theory and practice have been the Parental Leave Corporate Task Force's role. Established in 2019, the mission is to advance the notion that parental leave for dads and all caregivers are essential issues for corporate leadership. Current members of the Task Force include Bank of America, Deloitte, Dove Men+Care, Facebook, Promundo, Twitter, UNICEF (Technical Advisor), and Women Deliver. With the publication of the report Putting Fathers' Care to Work the Parental Leave Corporate Task Force makes a powerful argument that there has never been a more critical time to advocate for normalizing paternity leave. The break-in "normal" has presented an opportunity to chart a new path to gender equality and fathers shouldering their share.
The family's benefits that come with fathers who are engaged and present have long been stated, and statistics show that both children and fathers are better off. Despite this overwhelming evidence, the reality persists that fathers take much less leave than mothers even when legally mandated to take more. For example, The Helping Dads Care research project, drawing on data from six countries, found that fewer than 50 percent of fathers took the full amount of leave they were entitled to under their national policies while many took no leave at all.
The reasons for this are complex but are often mired in the old ways in which organizations and society have chosen to organize themselves. Both Carlos-Javier Gil, global brand vice president, Dove Men+Care, and Gary Barker, president & CEO, Promundo, Co-Chairs of the Parental Leave Corporate Task Force, recognize these structural and cultural impediments saying, "We know that there are many benefits when fathers can take time from work to spend with their families and that it can have transformational effects on children, families, fathers themselves, and society at large.
However, this can't happen if fathers continue to face social and cultural barriers to uptake - barriers that can keep them from being the fully involved caregivers they want to be and can be. Too often, even when the paid leave policies for dads are in place; men are not taking the leave they're entitled to."
Working fathers can often find themselves facing (1) economic constraints due to uneven organizational paternity leave policies (2) gender norms that imagine
Fathers as only financial providers and (3) concerns about career penalties and backlash at the workplace from taking leave.
Voices advocate for parental care specifically and making the connection to a holistic conversation on men's role in society has, in general, been gaining more momentum. Media Ecologist and Founder of MediaVillage Jack Myers penned The Future of Men: Men on Trial in 2016. This book opens the conversation of how wrestling all the ways our notions of masculinity and "being a man" manifest, and how crucial it is to making headway on parental leave for male caregivers.
There is so much to unpack in our understanding of male labor. How this conversation handles disparity in economic backgrounds and the type of work we evangelize is part of the puzzle. White-collar workers have long enjoyed more leeway than those in so-called "blue-collar" and service industries. COVID-19 has made those disparities more apparent as essential workers don't have the option to work from home. In those cases, childcare is an even more massive challenge, as the pandemic is just one more structural gap with profound implications. Widening the advocacy in studies like Putting Fathers' Care to Workwill only become more critical as more voices and perspectives are included. While changing hearts and minds around parental leave for dads, everyone must make sure no dads are left behind in the conversation.
This comprehensive report is a much-needed addition to ongoing conversations about both the future of men and what new shape parental leave should take on. Hiding behind the outdated ways of thinking about men as caregivers is no longer going to work. As difficult as it might be to bring forth a new, more inclusive reality, a bit more of the roadmap has been unearthed.
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The opinions expressed here are the author's views and do not necessarily represent the views of MediaVillage.com/MyersBizNet.