The U.S. is one of only three countries in the entire world with no paid maternity leave, right alongside Papua New Guinea and Swaziland. Even Pakistan, considered by most to be a failed nation, offers its mothers more support with a full twelve weeks of paid time off. By comparison, The Family and Medical Leave Act gives American mothers twelve weeks of unpaid leave, but even that is more of a symbolic gesture since most cannot afford to take that much time off with no income. It’s clear that working mothers receive very little support in the U.S.
Recent studies also show that fathers involved in child-rearing fare no better in the U.S. workplace.
To start with the positive, it appears that the U.S. is slowly becoming more equal with the way housework is divided within families. Mothers still spend about twice as much time as fathers in childcare and housework, but fathers are spending almost three times as many hours at home and with the kids than the previous generation. Experts predict that these numbers will continue converging.
But with men taking on a greater care-giving role at home, will that affect their professional work performance? Absolutely, just not in the way you might expect.
A forthcoming study from the University of Toronto has found that non-traditional caregiving roles at home affect the way a worker is treated in the office, regardless of their work performance. Specifically using the example of care-giving fathers, the study showed that these men work the same hours as their fellow colleagues, but are often treated more disrespectfully and harassed at work because of their perceived home lives. The study also added that both men and women who took time off for family suffered from less pay and promotions, "to extents that cannot be explained by possible skill loss, hours, performance, or ambition."
In addition, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission found that male caregivers also face far more discrimination in the workplace than fellow male colleagues who follow more traditional gender roles. In the past decade alone, the number of family responsibility discrimination cases from male plaintiffs increased over 300%.
The hostile situation that is created for men who want to prioritize family life eventually seeps into their own mindset as well. Some companies are beginning to offer paid paternal leave alongside maternal leave, but even when fathers are offered up to eight weeks, they often only take a week or two. At the same time, 60% of fathers report feeling a work-family conflict. Though the solution would be to utilize that paid time off, working fathers often fear the attached stigma at work, and the idea of that they will “lose face” is scary.
This Father’s Day, maybe our lawmakers can prioritize helping fathers in the workplace. Because it seems that though our society is entering the 21st century with a new and open mindset towards gender roles, our corporate structure is still stuck in the 1950s.