Last night, at a screening of my fatherhood documentary in New York City, something interesting and rather unexpected happened during the Q&A. A dad in the audience started talking about his surprise at how the new fathers in his tech company are refusing to take the generous paid parental leave that he is now offering.
"After changing our company's policy to four weeks of paid leave, the new dads were still coming back days after the birth,'" he shared, boggled.
If you aren't already privy to it, there's an unspoken rule in corporate America for dads when it comes to parental leave policy or anything that hints at real work/family balance: use at your own career peril.
Regardless of how 'family friendly' corporations paint themselves or how those in charge promote these ideas, it doesn't seem to matter. According to sociologist and masculinity expert Dr. Michael Kimmel, "Only one percent of American companies offer paid parental leave to their employees and of those companies, only one percent of dads actually take them."
Why is this? Because the unspoken rule is that if you are a dad (although moms can certainly feel the squeeze here as well) and you opt for such a policy, then you are committing career hari kari. In other words, you are not committed enough to your company and therefore you can forget about promotions, raises, becoming a partner, etc. Congratulations, because now you are on the 'daddy track.'
This is a perplexing issue because so much that stands in the way of dads really evolving in our culture is impeded by this limited corporate mentality and, in a larger sense, this mentality of profits over people is only further damning us as a country.
One of the fundamental problems with our country right now is that we are experiencing corporate malaise due to too much pencil pushing, clock punching and high attrition. People no longer feel like they are being treated like human beings and more like little productive bees, pushed to the max to work harder and longer in the pursuit of their company's profit. They feel that corporations don't really care about them and, for the most part, I think they're correct.
Is it possible to change such a mindset, especially when it comes to how dads see themselves in the workforce? The answer is a resounding yes insofar as it relates to our country's CEOs -- which brings me back to the CEO who was in our audience.
I was beginning to wonder why this CEO was present at the screening and so involved in the discussion, when he offhandedly mentioned that he himself is a father of a newborn. My guess is that he has had some sort of awakening to the value of being around his baby and that, beyond what his employees were doing, he was probably butting up against the same limiting corporate mentality that holds his employees back.
The truth is that the only way things are going to change in corporations is if CEOs like this dad not only encourage parental leave and other family policies in their companies but actually pick up a proverbial bullhorn and proclaim that they are using them themselves. A CEO who makes it a point that he will need to leave work to take his child to a doctor's appointment, rather than sneaking out to do so (or saying that the appointment is for himself) is going to make much more of an impact than any policy his company might have. Only by sending such a clear message to one's employees can limiting corporate mindsets be broken.
While it doesn't fit our current corporate atmosphere, these changes can only be of benefit in the long run. I think Dr. Kimmel says it best: "The benefits: a happier labor force, with employees who feel cared about, and who won't leave (think about how much it costs to train and retain good people). Job satisfaction drives profits. Retention drives profits."
So, if you are a CEO and you are having similar pangs as the dad who was in our audience, or regrets about the time you missed with your kids, I challenge you to pick up your bullhorn, take a ride on the 'daddy track' and lead the charge when it comes to how dads should be treated. No doubt it will be a radical shift of policy; but in the long term you will be doing an incredible service for your company, for your children and ultimately for our country.
Dana H. Glazer is the award-winning director of the feature documentary, The Evolution of Dad. To learn more or to order a copy of the DVD in time for Father's Day, please visit www.evolutionofdad.com.