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Businesses Must Allow Fathers to Take Care of Their Children

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  • The pandemic recession has disproportionately affected women, wth greater employment losses.
  • To recover from this, it’s time for workplaces to finally allow fathers to take adequate time off for childcare.
  • Josh Levs is an entrepreneur, keynote speaker, and journalist.
  • This is an opinion column. The thoughts expressed are those of the author.
  • See more stories on Insider’s business page.

This Father’s Day, there’s a crucial message about gender equality and economics that should be blasted across the country: To recover from the “she-cession” — the

recession
that has disproportionately hurt women — one of the steps businesses need to take is to treat men as equal caregivers.

Amid devastating job losses during the pandemic, women were especially hard hit. This is partly because women, particularly minority women, are more likely to work in sectors that suffered the most, such as hospitality and retail. It’s also partly because far too many businesses still expect women to handle the bulk of caregiving at home — and also punish men who seek flexible schedules or family leave. 

For years, some men have been fired or demoted for doing so, according to a series of studies by the Center for WorkLife Law, led by professor Joan C. Williams at the University of California-Hastings. 

Across the country and around the world, men and women alike express great frustration with this. In a survey commissioned by Dove Men+Care in partnership with Promundo-US, 85% of men across several countries said they want more time at home caring for their children. I have a partnership with Dove Men+Care, and large numbers of women and men agreed that financial pressures and attitudes among colleagues and managers are the biggest forces preventing that from happening.

In writing my book All In and the research I’ve done since, I’ve looked into why workplace pressures against men as caregivers persist. Sadly, one major force is that far too many executives still believe that men don’t do much at home, and have fallen for negative stereotypes of “lazy dads.” In reality, mothers and fathers put in equal time on behalf of their families through a combination of paid work, unpaid work, and childcare. But workplaces are pushing men to spend more hours on paid work, and pushing women to do more caregiving at home.

While things have changed during the pandemic, with men able to do more at home, I still hear from men and women across the country whose bosses expect women to shoulder more of that burden while expecting male employees to be more available 24/7.

To allow women an equal chance to succeed at work, businesses need to address policies and cultures built around Mad Men-era ideas about who does the caregiving.

Make leave and flexibility gender neutral

Several years ago, my legal case against Time Warner for fair parental leave got a great deal of news coverage. The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission then sent out guidance to businesses stating that while women should of course get paid time off for recovery after a birth, caregiving leave must be separate and gender neutral.

My work has shown me that the same should go for flexibility. Business should make clear, in writing, that all these options are equally available to all employees.

But what’s in writing is just the first step. The bigger step is culture. Inside businesses, managers should ensure that men and women feel equally comfortable taking flexible schedules or time off as needed. Operate on the expectation that women and men will be equal caregivers at home. Workers should be informed that if they’re ever punished for putting leave or flexibility options to use, they have a way to report it internally. 

Anonymous surveys can be very helpful as well. Ask employees whether they feel there are stigmas against leave and flexibility. Track the extent to which men and women report these problems. Ensuring fairness helps a company retain top workers, avoiding the enormous expenses of replacing them.

Make wellness work for all

Parents are also suffering with a great deal of stress, which can damage productivity and innovation at work. While the enormous toll the pandemic has taken on moms has been widely covered, the American Psychological Association found that fathers have been facing just as much stress.

Many workplaces have wellness programs aimed at helping combat stress. But these generally attract more women than men. In developing wellness initiatives, be sure to ask male employees what kinds of programs work for them as well, and encourage them to take advantage of these opportunities.

In a new survey released this week, Dove Men+Care found with Promundo-US that when men practice a holistic care regimen — including but not limited to practicing

mindfulness
and

meditation
— they’re more likely to strike greater balance between work and home. They do more unpaid work and childcare, helping build greater gender equality.

Kids then grow up seeing moms and dads engaged as full partners in domestic care and paid work. They, in turn, are more likely to pursue a similar balance as adults. By changing policies and cultures today, businesses can have long-term effects, helping build true gender equality for the next generation.

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