Ending Mad Men-era stigmas about working dads
Josh Levs
Diversity and inclusion consultant, former NPR and CNN journalist, and author of  All In: How Our Work-First Culture Fails Dads, Families, and Businesses — and How We Can Fix It

In 2013, after the birth of his daughter, Josh Levs believed his employer had an unfair parental leave policy for fathers like him. So, he filed a charge with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission against his employer, Time Warner, CNN’s parent company, arguing against the existing policy. At the time, Josh worked as a CNN journalist, broadcaster, and fact checker. His legal action succeeded, forcing the company to change its paid parental leave policy while creating change outside the company, too. Seeing men as caregivers, Josh says, is ultimately a women’s rights issue: “Women will never have equal opportunities in the workplace until men can be treated as equal caregivers.” Today, Josh is a diversity and inclusion consultant and author of the book, All In: How Our Work-First Culture Fails Dads, Families, and Businesses – and How We Can Fix It. The U.N. named him a Global Gender Champion, and The Financial Times named him one of the top 10 male feminists. Josh joins us to share his story as a father and “dadvocate.” He explains how both men and women must work to break toxic stereotypes about fathers and caregiving, and why changing laws, policies, and stigmas are the only way we’ll create gender equality.


Listen to this episode to learn:

  • Why backward thinking about gender is the reason why the United States doesn’t have a national paid family leave policy (the only industrialized nation in the world not to)
  • The misconceptions about fathers that we’ve been told and sold (dads are not lazy!), why we still believe in them, and how to bust antiquated myths about gender roles
  • Actions business leaders can take to create dad-friendly work cultures where men no longer fear punishment, retribution, or shame for putting their family first
  • How the gender wage gap holds us all back, culturally and economically, and perpetuates slanted views on gender
  • Why normalizing images of men as caregivers in the media and in advertising can help shift our mindset
  • Ideas for creating change from within your company – and at the state and federal level – and advocate for gender-neutral paid family leave


For more information, visit https://joshlevs.com


Click here to read the full episode

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Full Transcript

Ending Mad Men-era stigmas about working dads

Intro: Welcome to the Equal Parts Podcast, brought to you by Care@Work.

Emily Paisner: Being a working parent is hard, but it's a lot harder when they're outdated stigmas and myths about dads and caregiving. Our guests, Josh Levs, has seen the struggle up close because he lived it and took action to change it. Josh is a diversity and inclusion consultant and former NPR and CNN journalist. He's the author of the book, All In: How Our Work-First Culture Fails Dads, Families, and Businesses And How We Can Fix It.

In 2013, Josh took legal action against Time Warner, CNN's parent company for fair parental leave, ultimately forcing the company to change its parental leave policy. He joins us to share his story and how both men and women have a responsibility to break harmful stigmas about fathers and caregiving in order to achieve gender parity at work, at home, and in society. Have a listen. Josh, thank you so much for being here today.

Josh Levs: Hey, my pleasure. Thanks for having me.

Emily: I want to start by talking about your personal journey as a working father and as an activist for working parents. You were a journalist and a fact-checker at CNN when you actually sued Time Warner, CNN's parent company for fair parental leave and you won. Can you tell us about that story? Tell us what happened.

Josh: Sure. Yes, it was a big switcheroo for me because I was fact-checking all these politicians and pundits and then I became a dad and started doing segments on the air about being a father and discovered that there all these myths about dads too. When I started fact-checking those and then boom, all of a sudden I was the dad in the news, and other people were covering me.

What happened there was that when my wife was pregnant with our third child, we looked at what was going on in our family and we determined that I would be needed at home to do caregiving after the birth. I was already reporting on the fact that this is normal dad's care, we do caregiving, but the policies that I was under at CNN, which were part of Time Warner were strange and yet, sadly typical. Under those policies, anyone could get 10 paid weeks after having a kid except a guy who got his wife pregnant.

Emily: Unbelievable.

Josh: Anyone except the typical biological fathers. I tried to get it changed internally and they wouldn't do it. After my daughter was born prematurely in an emergency and they still wouldn't give me that time, I got like me could get only two weeks. I filed the charge with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, the EEOC and the short version is that ultimately, the company made the choice to revolutionize its policy, making it better for almost everyone, moms and dads.

Emily: That's incredible. Do you think that that had a trickle effect on other companies and their policies?

Josh: Yes, I actually know that it did because I started hearing from people at other companies wanting to make changes. It made changes in a few ways. One is that people learned these are our problem. There were all these women's groups and men's groups, mom blogs and dad blogs, and prominent people who supported my case and it got all this attention. That helped draw attention to this crucial issue, men as caregivers. Women will never have equal opportunities in the workplace until men can be treated as equal caregivers. There are all these people who discovered that this is even an issue and there are more men who realized that they need to take action themselves to do something about it.

Companies didn't want to face the kind of PR backlash that CNN, Time Warner, had faced so they started to address it. It did create yes, a trickle effect to other companies. Now that said, there's still a long way to go but the news media that called our legal case, a shot across the bow, and a wake-up call to employers, they proved prophetic. They turned out to be right because it did get the word out that things have to change.

Emily: You're right that we still have a long way to go. It's frankly shocking that only 19% of workers have access to paid family leave through their employers. There is no national paid leave policy in the United States, the only industrialized nation in the world not to. I know Melinda Gates has talked about having a caregiver czar in this next administration. How can we start to create the systemic change in this country?

Josh: Actually, Melinda, her team had me do something for Evoke this website that she runs. You're absolutely right. Part of what's tricky here is that there's so much confusion around these policies. What I support is what you mentioned, paid family leave, which is for anyone to do caregiving for an immediate family member who needs it, and the numbers of moms to have access to maternity leave after a birth paid leave is higher and fortunately, the number of men who have access to paid paternity leave is growing. Not quite half, but it's getting there of businesses.

What we need is paid family leave, that anyone can use. We're seeing states start to have that. When I spoke to the UN and when I worked on the book, I looked into this to try to figure out why is it that in the United States, we don't have national mandatory at least paid maternity leave? The reason this exists is backward thinking about gender. The thought process is a man should be at work making money while a woman is home. Why don't we have a national paid maternity leave?

Well, because she's a woman, she doesn't need money, she should just be home not making money. Why don't we have paid paternity leave? Because the man shouldn't be home, he should be off making money. It all comes back to a sexist mad men view of what work is. When we eradicate that, we suddenly realize how problematic all of our structures, our laws, our policies, and our stigmas. In order to fix this, we need not only policy solutions, but we need to establish an accurate understanding of gender. In this country, we have to come to understand that men and women are equally capable of caregiving and equally capable in the workplace. That is the biggest force that will affect change.

Emily: I want to get to some of that culture change that's necessary to happen in a little bit. First, I just want to talk about how-- You have a section on your website that's called dad facts. You talk about some of these common myths and stereotypes you touched on a few just now, and you really bust them as any great fact-checker would.

Josh: [laughs]

Emily: You don't have to go through all of them, but can you talk through some of the other ones that you haven't mentioned that are really damaging this perception of equality at work and at home?

Josh: Sure. One of the biggest reasons that men are prevented from being equal caregivers is that people in power genuinely believe that dads are not needed at home and don't do much at home. They truly believe that stereotype that you see in commercials, that guy says he's taking paternity leave or needs flexible schedule, he's really going to go home, pick up his feet, crack open a beer, watch football and wait for his wife to do anything. They legitimately believe this.

I fact check, there are things that I point out in the site like this idea that men are lazy or are getting more relaxation time, more leisure time, that's false. Men and women are putting in equal amounts of time. Moms and dads are putting in equal amounts of work time. When you combine paid work with unpaid work and childcare, it's the same. The difference is that men are pushed, being forced to stay in the workplace and do more of the paid work. Women are pushed, being forced to stay home and do more of the caregiving at home.

Then people sometimes manipulate these statistics to try to support the idea of the lazy father. They say that when moms and dads both work full-time, moms still do so much more work at home, but they don't understand that full-time means you're putting in 35 hours at the office. You have a mom who works 35 hours at the office and then puts another 20 hours to unpaid work at home, and a man who's working 55 hours at the office. Overall, they're equal.

I also have put, especially this past year, a lot of focus into shattering the racist stereotype of black fathers not being present. The overwhelming majority of black fathers live with their kids. Black fathers, on average, are actually the most involved. We need to shatter these stereotypes in order to draw attention to the real problems, which is the laws, the policies, the stigmas that are holding back equality.

Emily: I'm sure you know of Brad Harrington, he's been on this podcast. He's the Executive Director at Boston College's Center for Work & family. He spent over a decade researching working fathers. One of the things that really sticks out in my mind from my conversation with him and from his research is that many men truly are having this genuine conflict when it comes to caring for their families, and trying to advance their careers, and they want to be more involved at home.

Like you said, they're putting in so much time at the office because they're worried about the stigma and the fallout of that at work. Our CEO at Care.com, Tim Allen, actually just wrote about this in the Harvard Business Review about how important it is to foster a dad-friendly culture. How can companies start to break the stigma? How can leaders start to make their male employees know that it is okay to have caregiving responsibilities?

Josh: Brad's in my book about all this. That point is right. What's really happening with many of these cases is that they get punished for talking about the extent to which they are caregivers because of this old thinking among leaders in the workplace. I have a partnership with Dove Men+Care, we have done a lot of research about this as well. We have data showing that 85% of men say they would do anything to have more time at home with their families and do more caregiving, but their families cannot afford for them to risk their jobs.

My book is filled with stories of men who have been fired or demoted or lost job opportunities for taking paternity leave or for seeking a flexible schedule because we have this vicious cycle going on in which the very few men who don't value a family overwork, the very few men who decided to put more and more and more and more and more focus into work and shirk their families, they become the leaders and then they find a few men who are like them and raise them up to the top. Some of that has to do with the fact that we have old ideas about what a successful worker looks like.

There's still a lot of people in the workplace who think that a committed successful worker is someone who is always at his desk, always working, always available around the clock.

One of the things that I do with these businesses, I work with businesses everywhere, is I have them change their metrics so that instead of looking at how much is someone sitting at their desk, they look at how much did someone get done in a month or a quarter or a year? What did they get accomplished?

When you look at it from that perspective, you find it's often not the guys, the people, the women or men who are at their desks the most. Of course, it's not. It's often people who do have flexible schedules or who did take some time off for caregiving and came back and were super productive. We need to eradicate these old ideas about work and help people take a look with a new perspective.

When we do that, we start to drop these gender stereotypes that assume that a successful man is someone who is not going home, but who is staying at the office. When we do that, we find that we can actually improve our workplaces and support the economy because it helps businesses grow. It keeps people in the workforce and give women more equal opportunities. Making these changes benefits businesses and benefits women and benefits men.

Emily: This idea of the 24/7 worker has never been more apparent now during COVID-19 pandemic, when people are living, working, teaching all under one roof and really has blurred the lines between work and parenthood more than ever before. Employers are getting a first-row view into the personal lives of their employees. A lot of companies have re-evaluated the benefits they offer to their employees in response to this new reality, but it's still not enough.

You talked about these outdated perceptions and women are still picking up a lot of the childcare slack, and they're dropping out of the workforce at alarming rates as a result. How can businesses right now at this moment of time, better step up to support the parents that are trying to balance these unrealistic expectations? How can some of these changes continue and help to shape the future of how companies perceive gender roles?

Josh: The numbers of women who have lost their jobs or have been adversely affected it's so tilted. Part of that is the sectors that are most hit are often heavily female, but it's also not that. It's also that the fact that people are working from home in huge numbers right now presented an opportunity from the beginning, but it did not on its own eradicate sexism.

I'm still hearing from women and men around the country who are saying that they're both working from home. We look at a traditional heterosexual couple, a man and a woman, but in so many cases, the businesses that they work for are still expecting men to be the ones who are available around the clock and not women. It doesn't make sense. It's sexist.

They're still putting their-

Emily: I don't know. A lot of the women I talk to are still feeling like they're expected to be on all the time too.

Josh: Sure. No, I'm not saying that they're not. I'm saying, [unintelligible 00:13:58] absolutely. When you find the places that are willing to give any kind of flexibility, you often find that there are even well-intentioned places that think that they need to offer flexibility to women, but not to men. I had a woman call me the other day who told me that her husband's boss keeps saying, "Well, why can't your wife just take care of the kids? We need you here." You still have that form of sexism that does cause problems. You also have to factor in the wage gap, which is real.

Today's wage gap is not so much about being paid the same to do the same job, because a lot of businesses can now technically say that they pay men and women the same for the same job, but that's misleading because women can't get the higher-paying jobs because of all this sexism. You still have [unintelligible 00:14:44] systems in which very, very often the men are making more and one job is going to get lost and so families are making the choice to not lose the higher salary job.

We have to fix all of it. What we need to do is, I talk to men's groups about this all the time and individual man. We need to stand up during this time and make clear to any bosses who have these backward expectations that we're doing caregiving equally at home, and we just have to force it into action, because a lot of places will not help us do that. Make sure that we're not punished for doing so.

One reason that my case resonate with a lot of people is that in this country, workers don't know their rights. A lot of workers don't even know that they have any rights. The fact is, it is illegal to experience sexism in the workplace, it is illegal to experience discrimination based on your gender. If you are in a situation in which you are facing a different set of expectations from your counterparts who are of a different gender, then you can take to action and stand up against that.

We need to, and we also need to normalize the images of men as caregivers. That's one of the reasons that I do work on advertising and marketing, because the more that we see men as equal caregivers, the more that we stop thinking, "Oh, it's so impressive, this man is taking care of his children." The more that it's completely normal, the more businesses will have to adapt the way they respond.

Emily: Absolutely. You talked a little bit about flexibility and the importance of that during this time, and even not during a global pandemic. There is an argument out there, that flexibility is actually just creating more burnout for working parents. They're getting work done outside of normal business hours, they're working late, early mornings, most likely on the weekends, and it's just not sustainable and it does have an adverse effect on productivity in the long run. We really do need systemic change as opposed to these short-term pandemic-inspired policies. What do you think some of these longer-term systemic changes could be?

Josh: I wrote a piece for strategy in business about the difference between work-life balance and work-life integration. It gets at this, yes, flexibility can end up being a problem if by flexibility, what you mean is, "I expect you to be able to do everything at all hours." People, during this time, are not in a position to get as much done and work as they usually would because they're having to take care of their children all day, and educate them. It has to be about a lot more than flexibility.

Flexibility still matters. You might not be able to make a meeting at 10:00 AM but you might be able to take care of that at 10:00 PM if that works for you. We also need businesses to be understanding and not expect the same level of intense productivity when we have caregiving responsibilities, whether it's for children, or it's for people who are sick, an elderly parent, a sick spouse, someone who has COVID. In the big picture, I always say it boils down to three things, laws, policies, and stigmas.

We need national paid family leave for anyone who needs caregiving, and it's best done through an insurance system as is happening now in some of the states. At the policy level, after my case, the EEOC sent out guidance to businesses saying that you have to clearly distinguish caregiving leave from other forms of leave. Women should absolutely get paid leave for physical recovery after a birth, but you have to separate caregiving leave, and that has to be gender-neutral. A lot of businesses still haven't done that, but that is crucial.

We have to eradicate the stigma against men as caregivers, which means getting men and women to speak out anytime they see someone offended or insulted or put down or punished for taking time for caregiving, whether it's a man or a woman. The real long-term solution here is to raise the next generation seeing moms and dads capable of caregiving at home and working.

Even if you don't want kids, making sure that your business and then our society allows for paternity leave and maternity leave, caregiving leave from the earliest days of a child's life. That is the key long-term solution. Because when kids grow up seeing it, they turn it into reality. We can see that in countries in Northern Europe, for example, that are way ahead of us. Not perfect, but way ahead of us because generations have seen this in action. When we do that, when we eradicate the stigmas, and we work together to change the policies and the laws, we do create a future in which more gender equality can thrive.

Emily: I'm sure a lot of working parents are listening to this right now saying, "It all makes so much sense but where do I start within my organization?" How can they start to create change from within?

Josh: What I tell people is to start off with a presumption of best intentions. Take a look at your organization. Read the written policies and talk to your colleagues and find out, are people taking the leave that is available to them. If not, why not? Are men comfortable taking time for caregiving? Are men using the available paternity leave? The overwhelming majority of paternity leave in America goes unused because men know that they can be punished for it and they don't want to risk their jobs and they can't lose their jobs.

Find out what the policies are. Find out what the stigmas are. Create a groundswell within your organization of people who agree with you. Find out what the system is. Go to HR, go to managers, say, "This is what we need our policies to be or this is the cultural problem we have here." Address it and encourage them to do the right thing. I always believe in that.

Now, if eventually, you find that you're in a situation like I was in which there simply is a structural problem that they're refusing to address and it affects you, then it's time to take more serious action and people can do that. Men are starting to file more legal cases for caregiving issues and that's important.

There's also the broader cultural issue. Speaking out publicly with the facts about what today's [unintelligible 00:20:56] facing is crucial. I tell people this all the time, men tell me that they're so afraid to even address work-life balance issues or caregiving issues, to talk about it, to mention it because they're convinced that they will unintentionally say something offensive to women or that a woman will say to him, "Oh, you man, and the patriarchy, who are you to talk about you having problems?"

What I tell people it's the exact opposite. Ruth Bader Ginsburg fought for dads. Feminists on front lines who stood for gender equality for men to be equal caregivers. This is a crucial women's rights issue in addition to being important for men. I look at my case, I spoke out and women's groups supported me and very prominent women across the spectrum. We need to talk at a cultural level about this and if you want one more action, talk to your state representatives and get paid family leave insurance going at the national level. When we get that, we will see businesses thrive, families thrive, and gender equality take a big step forward.

Emily: Josh, I couldn't agree with you more. I am personally inspired by your story and I know that so many other working moms and dads are as well. Can you just lastly tell us where people can find out more about you and your work?

Josh: Yes, absolutely. By the way, this has been a great conversation. I really like this show.

Emily: [chuckles]

Josh: My website is Joshlevs.com. All my links are there. I have one rule that everyone listening is required, right this second, while you're listening, if you're in a car, pull over to the side of the road, go to LinkedIn and join me there. I'm the only Josh Levs. I'm happy to answer your questions that you message me through there, and we'll be in touch.

Emily: Josh, thank you so much for continuing to speak up and for fighting the fight for working parents everywhere. We really appreciate you joining us today.

Josh: Thank you. We're all one team. Thanks.

Outro: Thanks for listening to this episode of Equal Parts. See you next time.

Emily: Wait. Before you go, I just want to tell you a little bit about Care@Work by Care.com. They work with some of the world's largest companies to offer family care benefits to their employees. If you're one of the lucky ones who already has Care benefits at work, use them. If you don't, ask for them, it's a real lifesaver. To learn more, visit care.com/careatwork. Again, that's care.com/careatwork.