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01/23/2015 10:21 am ET Updated Jan 23, 2015

In Male-Dominated Davos, A Call For More Paternity Leave

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At this year's World Economic Forum in Davos, amid discussions of everything from climate change to peace in the Middle East, one voice is putting a spotlight on a seemingly minor issue that could actually have huge implications for the way we live and work: paternity leave.

According to Wharton Business School professor and psychologist Adam Grant, paternity leave is key to nurturing gender equality. In an interview on the World Economic Forum's website, Grant urged leaders to look at the example set by Scandinavia, which has one of the narrowest gender gaps in the world and where 90 percent of Swedish fathers take paternity leave.

The United States, by contrast, has no federally-mandated paid leave for new parents. And as Scott Coltrane, a sociologist who studies fatherhood, put it, even when companies have policies offering paid parental leave to employees, "there is still some stigma about men who say, 'My kids are more important than my work.' And basically, that's the message when men take [paternity leave]."

Grant's call to action includes a second key element, one perfectly tailored to Davos' high-profile (and mostly male) audience: CEOs and top executives must themselves set the tone.

"You need male senior executives taking paternity leave, and showing that they see themselves first and foremost as a father and a husband," Grant said. "Only then can we expect employees to look up the hierarchy and perceive that valuing family is not a sign of weakness that will detract from their career."

"More broadly, we should consider policies that encourage firms to impose limits on the hours people work," Grant said. "When there's pressure to be in the office 70, 80, 90 hours a week, it becomes impossible to segment time for non-work responsibilities."

Perhaps a sign of changes to come?

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