During my many conversations with friends and associates in the corporate world – a common theme that occurs is that fatherhood has undergone a sea-change in recent times. From being defined in stereotypical and gendered ways to being understood as an ‘equitable partnership’, the conversation has reached a level of reassuring maturity. Today’s fathers actively seek to become a well-rounded influence in the lives of their children and are fully cognizant of their role in how their children are raised. While this is great to hear, what’s interesting is that organizations observe a wide gap in the actual utilization of benefits built for them.
Numbers don’t lie
Worldwide, 90 out of 187 countries offer statutory paid paternity leave, with around four in ten organizations providing paid leave above the statutory minimum. And yet, many countries that offer generous paternity leaves have low uptake. Additionally, the pandemic resulted in more women falling out of the workforce (58%) in order to devote more time to domestic chores and childcare and there is an obvious correlation. It occurs to me that the reason for the low uptake of such provisions among men might be linked to the culture that is fostered within the workplace, and the sheer lack of precedents in our immediate surroundings. This takes me back to a powerful observation that the author James Clear makes in his book ‘Atomic Habits’: The normal behavior of the tribe often overpowers the desired behavior of the individual. Apart from the fear that they might be looked down upon, there is also the perception that this could lead to professional penalties and hinder their career growth. So what can organizations do to support caregiving fathers?
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An interlinked two-pronged approach seems the most effective –
Build inclusive, gender-agnostic policies
A tectonic change towards gender-agnostic policies for ‘parents’ needs to be seen, thereby demonstrating an empathetic understanding of the fact that employees fill multiple roles. Top of mind example to apply this would be providing childcare benefits for fathers and mothers as against only the latter. In addition, organizations can celebrate fatherhood by for eg. throwing baby showers for fathers, constructively observing important days like Father’s Day, and actively building Father communities within the organization for exchange of thoughts and ideas. Additionally, providing for flexible work arrangements for fathers, in addition to mothers, might take the pressure off the latter. This will change the entire dynamic in the workplace, making way for a healthy, strong, and equitable partnership between the parental unit, having a positive impact on nurturing the child.
Shift the culture, one conversation at a time
It is no secret that a company’s culture trickles down from the executive corridors. When men don’t find examples of other men, especially in positions of leadership, taking sanctioned time-off to prioritize family, they find it difficult to break out of the mold. Leading by example – actively taking the time afforded to them, as enshrined in the company policies, to devote to childcare – is a strong motivator for other employees to follow suit. Moreover, in the context of societal norms inhibiting fathers from actively accessing benefits, it is crucial that organizations ensure that male employees know what supportive arrangements are available and how they can utilize them. Additionally and more importantly, simple nudges can go a long way in helping fathers embrace their caregiving role. Asking about one’s family or the child’s developmental progress instead of empty conversation starters about how one spent the weekend can make young fathers feel accepted and encourage them to take their parenting role more seriously. This is also a great way to build a strong community that allows for learning, exchange of ideas and camaraderie through significant phases of their lives.
Promundo’s 2021 report titled, ‘State of the World’s Fathers’, says that while women do the lion’s share of unpaid care work, men are participating more during the COVID 19 pandemic than any time in recent history. While this is great news, the report which is based on surveys with men and women across 47 countries says that we are 92 years away from quality in unpaid care work. With the dynamic of parenting disrupted in the pandemic, the organization’s efforts in supporting family-friendly policies will accelerate the progress made so far. Not only is this good for business but significantly impacts the much sought after triple bottom line for responsible companies. With more caregiving fathers, mothers are able to participate in the workforce more effectively and achieve better work-life balance. And like we always say, happy families = happy children = happy communities.
(The writer is CEO, KLAY Preschools and Daycare)
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