Paternity Leave Offers A Surprising Benefit To Women, New Study Finds

This is pretty cool.

02/07/2016 08:18 pm ET
  • Emily Peck Executive Editor, Business and Technology

Paid paternity leave might seem like a cushy fringe benefit in the U.S., available to a few dads who may not even really want to take it. Its most recognizable proponent, after all, is a 31-year-old tech billionaire. Not exactly a relatable guy.

But a provocative new study of almost 22,000 companies in 91 countries found that the places with the highest percentages of women in leadership, including in the boardroom and at the executive level, offered fathers 11 times more paternity leave days than those countries at the bottom.

The top countries included Norway (at least 14 weeks for fathers) and Italy (26 weeks, shared between parents) and France (26 weeks paid).

The study, released Monday, was conducted by consulting firm EY and the Washington-based Peterson Institute for International Economics.

Strong paternity leave is an indicator that a country offers robust support for working parents, Marcus Noland, executive vice president and director of studies at the Peterson Institute, told The Huffington Post.

“In countries that are more family-friendly and have greater support for child-bearing and rearing, women experience less disruptions in their careers and are more likely to make it to the top,” said Noland, who coauthored the report.

That support includes paternity leave, but likely also includes other policies -- like subsidized child-care -- that the report did not examine. “Maternity leave is rather common across countries,” Noland said. “Paternity leave is less so.” The United States is one of only two countries in the world that doesn’t provide women with paid maternity leave. Or, as Noland put it: “The U.S. is terrible.” 

Bloomberg via Getty Images
Facebook founder and CEO Mark Zuckerberg took two months off after his wife, Priscilla Chan, gave birth at the end of 2015.

Getting more women into leadership roles is not simply an issue of fairness. The researchers also found that having more women in leadership roles gives firms a competitive advantage. A company with leadership that is 30 percent female has profits that are six percentage points higher, on average, than a company with no women leaders.

“The more women in the c-suite the more profitable the firm is,” Noland said.

The researchers looked at just a year’s worth of data, and take care to note that the study shows only a correlation. Noland hopes to do a more wide-ranging study in the future to further determine what kinds of policies help raise women up. Aside from paternity leave, the study also found that countries where girls have higher math scores also lead to more women in leadership roles.

This work follows on other research that has shown that having more women in leadership improves company performance. Other studies have shown that paternity leave policies can help women earn higher salaries and have lower rates of postpartum depression.

The link between paternity leave and the success of women makes intuitive sense, if you simply consider what happens to working women after they enter the business world. Though these days more women graduate from college than men, and enter the workforce in relatively similar percentages to their male counterparts, they still don’t rise in organizations.

Look at what happens in the finance industry, as you move from entry-level to the top:

As you go higher up the corporate ladder, in this chart produced by the nonprofit women's group Catalyst, you see that men start to take over. One major factor -- beyond discrimination, which is still a thing, unfortunately -- is that women, even those with full-time jobs, are still expected to handle child-care duties. Men are not.

That means women wind up giving up on more demanding job roles and take time out of the workforce.

It also leads organizations to discriminate against them: Companies and countries that offer significantly more paid leave to mothers than they offer to fathers, wind up reinforcing the notion that raising children is what women do. It’s an increasingly antiquated notion. Particularly among millennials, who see parenting as an equal proposition between men and women.

Noland said that he pushed for paternity leave within his organization, which offered none when he became a father of his now 6-year-old twins. Now Peterson offers new dads three weeks paid leave, he said. “Men and women here thank me all the time for doing that."

CONVERSATIONS