Working dads need help taking parental leave

By Alexander von Rosenbach, Founder and Director of Take The Time, a Netherlands-based platform helping men to overcome personal, professional, and social stigmas around parental leave

Men today have a problem. Many of us want to be fully engaged parents. And many of us believe in gender equality, at home and in the workplace. But when we start families, we struggle turning thought into action. Globally, a dramatic disparity still exists between the amount of care work done by men compared to women: in fact, women do more than twice as much care work as men do in every region of the world. In some regions, it’s more than six times as much.

Today, I’m pleased to announce the launch of Take The Time, an important new social enterprise dedicated to helping working dads take parental leave during the vital early weeks and months of fatherhood. Take the Time has also signed onto the MenCare Global Fatherhood Campaign, joining partners from over 45 countries around the world working to advance positive fatherhood and gender equality.

The Parental Leave Problem

I began Take The Time as part of my personal quest to create more bonding time with my young daughter, without hurting my career. But I quickly realized that millions of working dads are struggling with this same challenge. I also learned that few men take any sort of parental leave – loosely defined as substantial time-off from work to care for a new child, separate from maternity or paternity leave. In fact, in 2017 across the industralized world, less than 10% of eligible dads took parental leave.

Who’s Eligible, Anyway?

Parental leave is already firmly rooted in the social fabric of almost every industrialized nation. Across the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), 97% of countries already provide some type of parental leave entitlement. What’s more, many governments are continuing to expand their policies. For example, Canada will add five more weeks to its leave policy in March of 2019, specifically targeted to increase uptake by working dads.

In the U.S., where the government does not provide any formal maternity, paternity or parental leave, some private sector companies are stepping up to fill the gap. In an effort to attract and retain Millennial workers, big-name tech firms like Netflix, Facebook and Google have all launched extended parental leave policies for new moms and dads. In 2018, many other familiar brands – including Starbucks, Estée Lauder, and even Anheuser-Busch InBev (the world’s biggest beer company) announced new leave options as well.

Unfortunately, national policies continue to provide unequal access to parental leave. There are often eligibility requirements, while the number of weeks a new dad can take (parental leave duration) and amount he’ll be paid while off (parental leave compensation) vary widely. In the U.S. this also varies tremendously by income, with low-wage workers least likely to have access to any sort of paid leave. Additionally, research shows that most countries outside the OECD provide limited or no access to parental leave for new fathers.

The bottom line is there’s still lots of work to be done to improve access to parental leave around the world. But already, millions of working dads already have access to parental leave, and that number is growing every day. Yet, few take advantage. What’s stopping us?

Dads Are Interested, But Scared

Is it just that today’s fathers aren’t interested? Nope. Survey after survey has shown that dads are putting huge value on family time and caregiving roles.

  • Millennials “are more likely than other generations to cite paid parental leave as an important benefit” (Ernst and Young, 2015);
  • “69% of fathers in the U.S. said they’d change jobs to be more involved in caring for a newborn” (Equimundo, 2018);
  • “85% of men agree they should be as involved in all aspects of childcare as women. At the same time, over nine in ten men believe it is equally acceptable for both women and men to take time out from employment in order to care for their family” (Equal Lives, 2018).

The trouble, it seems, is that working dads still face powerful personal, professional, and social stigmas that deter them from taking leave. Research from the UK suggests that men who have heard of parental leave are worried: one survey found that 50% of working dads worried it didn’t make financial sense, 36% thought it would negatively impact their career, and 24% were concerned it would inhibit breastfeeding. Also, a large proportion of men simply haven’t investigated their options, and as a result are not aware of parental leave at all.

We founded Take The Time because we believe these challenges can be overcome, through education, advocacy, and community-building. To that end, the organization has three goals: (1) to help men think hard about parental leave; (2) to help men take parental leave; and (3) to help men share their experiences to inspire others.

To support working dads on this journey, we offer practical information for planning and negotiating leave, advice for balancing work and family, and inspirational stories from dads around the world. We provide resources to help create a supportive community of family, friends, and colleagues. And, in partnership with Thriving Talent, we offer employers a comprehensive roadmap for launching parental leave policies that truly support working parents.

But most importantly, Take The Time challenges working dads to reflect on taking parental leave. All the time, we hear men say, “I can’t take parental leave”. As mentioned above, we know that’s still true for many men, and we’re proud to support Panorama Global and other organizations that are working to improve access to parental leave in the U.S. and around the world. But often what we find is that when men say “I can’t,” they mean “I won’t” or “I haven’t really thought about it.”

Take The Time’s mission is to help working dads do whatever they can to make parental leave work if they’re eligible for it, in whatever shape or form makes sense for their families. We know it’s a dad’s best opportunity to establish a powerful and lasting bond with a new child. It’s a chance to advance gender equality at home and at work. It leads to improved infant health and maternal well-being. And, it leads to a more productive and engaged workforce.

For all these reasons and more, at Take The Time we’re building a world where men are willing and able to take parental leave. And with your help, change will happen – one father at a time, one conversation at a time.

Alexander von Rosenbach is the Founder and Director of Take The Time, a new social enterprise working helping fathers take parental leave. Follow him on Twitter.