Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg took two months of paternity leave after the birth of his child in 2015, and it kickstarted the conversation about parental leave policies and gender inequality, in general, across the country. Since then, companies have been reconsidering their parental benefits (which traditionally just include maternity leave) and, as a growing body of research reiterates that paid paternity leave is equally important for both the family and for workplace gender equality, evermore companies are starting to offer new fathers paternity leave, too.
“Studies show that when working parents take time to be with their newborns, outcomes are better for the children and families,” Zuckerberg said in a Facebook post. The U.S. Department of Labor agrees, stating:
“Longer paternity leaves are associated with increased father engagement and bonding [...] dads have more time to bond with a new child, and will be more involved in caring for their children right from the start [...] Families with fathers who take more leave also share chores and childcare more equally between mothers and fathers. One of the more interesting emerging new research findings is that increasing paternity leave may also change longstanding cultural norms about gender, work and household responsibilities [...]This means that increasing how much parental leave fathers take can change the culture in ways that make it more gender-equal.”
So, shortly thereafter, a free, crowdsourced Parental Leave Resource Center that ranks companies of all sizes’ paternity leave policies by most paid weeks was born on Fairygodboss. We reached out to men who've taken paternity leave from companies like those included to ask them about their experiences. Here's what they had to say...
1. It's super important for fathers to build bonds with their families, too.
"Recently, one of the most exciting things happened in my life: the birth of my son, Tipton," says Alex Smith, business consultant for iProv, LLC and a 27-year-old new father. "It was a magical moment and one I wanted to last as long as possible. Now, to be honest, one of the first things that entered my mind was, how much time will I get to spend with him before I go back to work. And the answer was 10 days. My work gave me 10 days of paternity leave, and I was so thankful for that. My stance on the matter is really cynical, however, because I am a huge advocate for the mom getting at least six months, though we know that doesn't happen, and men getting at least a month.
"The reason is that I believe those infancy moments are so critical for both parents to be in unison during the early stages of life, that when that time is taken, and we are forced to hit the workforce again, not only do we lose touch with what actually occurred, we create a void in the development that we already know is so critical.
"Needless to say, the time I spent was amazing. My work was amazing, my wife was amazing, and I was thrilled to have even that amount of time. I think the experience in itself opened up a door in my mind that I need to work as hard as possible to allow my significant other as much time at home during the early stages as possible. Because I know how important that is. There really wasn't any negative, other than as a society we can do better with allowing parents more of that intimate time, without holding a strain on them."
2. Fathers who take time off are better able to support mothers.
"I'm a father of two girls aged 10 and three years old — while on a paternity leave, I did it as soon as my wife had her labor and I was always beside her to make sure that everything is fine," says Ulysis, a content strategist for RapidVisa Philippines. "I did maximize the amount of leave that my company gave me so that I could assist my wife from the hospital going back home. I did not feel judged; in fact, they admired me for being a very good father and a husband."
3. Fathers should be able to spend the formative years with their children.
"I’ve always wondered about paternity leave, and, after 20 years working in large corporations, I know there’s a stigma against men who choose to use their paternity leave," says Alexander Lowry, executive director for the Master of Science in Financial Analysis at Gordon College. "But, for me, my family comes first. So one of the reasons I took a job in education was to achieve an improved work-life balance. Still I have high expectations for myself, and I have lots I need to deliver, so taking time way is a challenge. And I still wonder whether there’s a different perception for those who do it.
"So I’ve found a middle ground: taking days here and there rather than as a big chunk. This allows me to stay connected at work and people don’t notice much if I’m going for an occasional day, versus say two weeks in a row. I’m glad I’ve got the opportunity to spend formative time with my newborn daughter. That’s a gift, and the most important thing! And I wouldn’t trade it for anything."
4. Paternity leave leads to gender equality in the workplace.
“I don’t want to miss that,” Ben Hoffman said of getting to spend time with his children during paternity leave. Hoffman leads the new digital lending business behind Fifth Third Bank. He's also the former head of corportate strategy and sees both the family benefit and the company benefit to paternal leave. He took paternity leave with his son and his first baby two years ago with another company. “Until men are taking paternity leave and being gone for a while — even if it isn’t 12 weeks — we won’t achieve gender equality at work. When men and women both take time away and both transition back in, it will lead to a more equal, engaged and productive workforce.”
5. Companies that offer paid leave for fathers show that they support families.
“Having a policy that provides four weeks of paid leave not only helps out financially, but it reinforces the Bank’s support for me to actually take the time off," said Jeremy Faust, who took four weeks of with pay. Faust is the sustainability leader for Enterprise Workplace Services with Fifth Third Bank, which offers a new paid Baby Bonding leave that allowed him the financial ability to take time off and the emotional assurance that it was okay.
“While our new policy allows me to take time away from the Bank, it also supports my wife’s in taking time away from her career and being able to return to a job she loves. I am continually impressed by the culture at Fifth Third... Caring for an infant is definitely a team experience. It’s times like these that cement our foundation as a team and as a family.”
6. Paid leave for both parents gives both mothers and fathers equal time to adjust.
“I couldn’t believe it — I showed the email to my wife and she was in shock; it was awesome," says Brian Carson, who had set aside money and saved vacation time when he learned his wife was pregnant with their third child. He didn't think he'd be able to take paternity leave, but Fifth Third Bank gave him paid time off. He is an IT security and identity analyst.
“We knew it was going to be a big change in our house. They are only little for such a short amount of time, I wanted to be there for all of it... We both work; we both take care of the house.” Brian is the cook and his wife does laundry; meanwhile, their boys do chores. Brian said he liked that his boys would see that their dad took time away from work, too.
7. Paternity leave gives fathers time to recharge, too.
"I am very glad that I took paternity leave — I took two months," says Joel Legatt, a mathematics and physics teacher. "As a teacher, I am lucky to have very good policies in place for family leave, and the field is very understanding towards that. Additionally, other male teachers have taken paternity leave, so it is of the cultural norm in my workplace. I was eligible for half pay for six weeks, I had off winter break, and I took off one additional week unpaid. It was great because I was able to focus on supporting my wife as she recovered from labor, and got to know my son and get into the routine of parenting before returning to work. I am working on a national-level teacher certification, and I took advantage of this time to work on my portfolio. Most everybody was very supportive of my decision, only one or two co-workers weren't."
AnnaMarie Houlis is a multimedia journalist and an adventure aficionado with a keen cultural curiosity and an affinity for solo travel. She's an editor by day and a travel blogger at HerReport.org by night.