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Taking Baby Steps Toward A Daddy Track


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TAKING BABY STEPS TOWARD A DADDY TRACK

When Mark Janosky's first child was born in September, 1989, the 31-year-old engineer wanted to share in the parenting and get to know his son. So he took off four months from Eastman Kodak Co., with benefits but no pay, to be a full-time father. For a man seven years into his career, even a temporary move to diapers was "a gear-shifting thing," Janosky says. But "it's one of the best things I've ever done. There's something between him and me that wasn't there between me and my father."

Women have been struggling with the Mommy Track for years as they try to juggle work and kids (BW--Mar. 20, 1989). Now, men are getting into the act. More than half of the women of child-bearing age work full-time, giving fathers new opportunities--and responsibilities--to share the burden of rearing kids. So some men, such as Janosky, are taking off weeks or months after a child is born. Others are going even further, diverting their careers, perhaps permanently, to help raise families.

The result is the gradual emergence of a new career path, a Daddy Track. It is reserved mostly for professionals, and few of them take on the primary child-rearing role. Still, more men are sharing more of the burden, prompting employers to accommodate the male half of the work force -- perhaps just in time. "Men are reexamining their roles," says James A. Levine, director of the New York-based Fatherhood Project, a nonprofit group. And if current legal trends continue, companies that offer maternity leave may have to do the same for men.

'CAREER SUICIDE.' No one knows how many men opt for paternity leave--the equivalent of the time off women take after their disability leave for pregnancy ends. In a 1988 survey, the Bureau of Labor Statistics found that 17% of medium and large companies offered the option. In 1989, the number jumped to 20%, vs. 40% that offered maternity leave. Human-resource experts say that fewer men than women use available leave policies, perhaps only 1%. But slowly, the ranks of Daddy Trackers are growing, at least at large companies (table).

These men are trying to shift the balance of work and family despite big disincentives. Men still earn nearly a third more than women on average, so most can't afford much time off without pay, especially if their wives are on leave, too. "I'm the main wage earner in our family, and I didn't think our budget could afford my taking six months off," says Michael W. J. West, a Du Pont Co. research chemist. West took two weeks of vacation and two of part-time work after his daughter was born in January.

Beyond the financial drawbacks, men fear the damage to their careers and the reactions of friends and peers. Even companies with generous leave policies say corporate cultures are slow to accept the change. "We are a very conservative organization," says Sherry Herchenroether, manager of family services at Aetna Life & Casualty, which for the past two years has let men take child care leave of up to six months. "There still is concern about how it will appear. I hear that in men's voices when they call for information." In short, men who want to share parenting face the same biases as working mothers. Often, the attitude is: "You can't be serious about your work if you want to take time off to care for kids," says Miriam Scott, an editor at Charles D. Spencer & Associates, an employee benefits firm.

Joel Russman knows what she means. The Denver attorney, now 35, left his law firm in December, 1988, to care for his first child, Adrienne. His wife wanted to keep her higher-paying job as an institutional bond broker, and neither found day care palatable. "I felt what I was doing was valuable," says Russman, but he got little support. His firm wouldn't hold his job open. Family members weren't much more help. "My father didn't understand what I was doing," says Russman. "My 91-year-old grandfather vehemently opposed it and felt I was committing career suicide."

As Adrienne grew, Russman took on a few hours a week of legal work. Late last year, following the birth of a second daughter, he and his wife decided to switch roles: She would stay home, and he would work full-time again. The transition was hard. He couldn't return to his old firm. Some lawyers at the firms Russman applied to "couldn't relate" to his experience. "I was too unconventional," he says. Moreover, two years awayfrom the profession had cut his salary potential. Finally, in January, Russman landed a job at a Denver firm that's paying him about what he made before.

As daunting as Russman's experience sounds, employers think more men will take such risks in the next decade. Europe presents one possible model. Several European countries pay nearly full salaries, some for up to 15 months, to both men and women who take family leave. In Sweden, only 2% of new fathers took parental leave in the first few years after the law was passed in 1975. Today, more than 27% do. The numbers may not reach this level in the U. S., where extensive paid leave isn't even on the horizon. Still, in a recent national survey of 1,000 people done for Robert Half International, a benefits consulting firm, 74% of the men queried said they would accept slower career advancement to spend more time with their families.

'CONCERNED.' Companies may have to adjust to that. Last May, the Third Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that Pittsburgh's school district had wrongly denied a male teacher the same child care leave it grants women. Three months later, in a little-noticed internal memo, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission essentially reaffirmed the court's decision, arguing that the Civil Rights Act of 1964 requires companies to offer men the same nondisability parental benefits as women.

If this legal position is upheld by other courts, companies that now give leaves only to women--about half of those that offer the benefit--will have a choice: Give the same to men or take away maternity leave entirely. "I think there are a lot of employers who aren't even aware of their obligation" after the latest legal developments, says Damon Tobias, the U. S. Chamber of Commerce's manager for human resources policy.

Congress may help clarify things. Proposed legislation would require companies to offer men and women up to 12 weeks of unpaid leave. President Bush vetoed such a law in 1990, but it is likely to pass again. "The short answer is: Yes, we're very concerned," says John Satagaj, president of the Small Business Legislative Council, which, with other business groups, opposes the idea.

Congress can't legislate Mr. Mom into existence. Even if laws change, cultural barriers remain. "You have to have a well-developed sense of self-worth" to leave the standard career track, says an engineer who abandoned work in his late 40s to care for his two school-age children. Still, the idea is slowly taking hold that men are parents, too.

WHERE PATERNITY LEAVE IS CATCHING ON

LOTUS DEVELOPMENT One of a few companies to offer men paid leave: up to four weeks, depending on length of service, plus another four weeks unpaid. In 1990, some 23 men took leaves, compared with 29 in the previous two years combined

AETNA Gives men up to six months off, without pay, for major family obligations. Ten men took leaves last year, up from three in 1989; 20 are expected to do so this year

3M Twenty-four men may take unpaid leaves this year, up from four in 1986. Male attendance also up sharply at company-sponsored lunchtime parenting classes

EASTMAN KODAK Grants up to 17 weeks unpaid leave. In three years, 61 men have taken leaves, compared with 812 women in the same period. Average length of leaves, about 11 weeks, is the same for men and women

AMERICAN TELEPHONE & TELEGRAPH Men account for one of every 50 employees taking family leave. A decade ago, they accounted for one in every 400. Parents can take up to 12 months unpaid leave. Last year, some 82% of men on leave, a higher rate than for women on leave, took 3 months or longer

DATA: BWKeith H. Hammonds in Boston, with William C. Symonds in Denver


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