Deconstructing "The New Dad" and Expanding Paid Leave
Brad Harrington
Associate Research Professor & Executive Director, Center for Work and Family, Boston College

Who is “The New Dad?” Is he any different from the “old” one? Brad Harrington has been researching this question for over a decade. He’s the Executive Director of the Boston College Center for Work & Family – which partners with nation’s most progressive employers to improve employees’ lives – and an award-winning professor at the Boston College Carroll School of Management. During our conversation, Harrington breaks down modern working dads, explaining the conflicts and complexities so many of them grapple with (no matter their generation) when it comes to caring for their families while advancing their careers. He also reveals intriguing findings from a new landmark study measuring the impact of expanding corporate paid leave benefits for new working parents.

Listen to this episode to learn:

  • Reasons why working dads struggle just as much as (and perhaps more than) working moms to balance the demands of work and family
  • The employer’s role in supporting and celebrating the role men play as caregivers (and how this supports gender equality)
  • Are Millennial dads really the most “egalitarian” fathers?
  • Why senior executives need to lead by example and encourage more men to take the full amount of paternity leave offered to them
  • The progress society has made in getting more men to take paternity leave
  • Ideas for re-entry to the workplace after leave, including “phased returns” and flexible work schedules
  • The similarities between women and men who take parental leave when it comes to company loyalty and concerns about career advancement and company

Click here to read the full episode. 

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Full Transcript

Deconstructing "The New Dad" and Expanding Paid Leave

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

Emily Paisner: Being a working parent is hard, whether you're a mom or a dad. My guest today is Brad Harrington. He's an award-winning research professor at the Carroll School of Management at Boston College. He's also the executive director of the Boston College Center for Work and Family. Brad has a long and impressive career studying a subject we haven't actually talked about a lot on this podcast, working dads. He shared some surprising insights about the isolation working dads feel, no matter what age they are. We also talked about his new research surrounding companies that have recently expanded their paid family leave policies. Have a listen. Brad, thank you so much for being here today. 

Brad Harrington: You're welcome. 

Emily: As I'm working mom, there was something in your research that really surprised me. That was that fathers are struggling more than mothers to balance the demands of work and family. Can you talk about that a little bit? 

Brad: Yes, I think everybody's first reaction is, "What? If we do so much more than the home, how can they possibly be having this emotional struggle and feeling so conflicted?" I think we've really been able, over the years, to say, why is this the case that fathers feel that way? I think there's a few reasons. I think one is, and this is becoming less true, but it certainly is true that most fathers didn't have a dad who was a role model for them. 

In many cases, the fathers today who are in their 30s and 40s, they still had fathers in very traditional kinds of roles. When they looked at who their role models were, they didn't necessarily see a father who's doing as much hands-on caregiving. I think the second thing is that, and this is partly a result of that, women enter into the workplace with the idea of, "It's going to be difficult, but I'm going to have to manage this juggling act. That's just what it's going to be." 

I think men don't necessarily enter into the workplace with quite that clear an expectation. Some do, especially if they had a mother who worked fulltime and they saw their dad sharing the responsibilities with her. I think a lot of them don't enter into the workplace with the expectation of this is going to be a juggling act. I think they find that juggling more difficult. The third thing is that a lot of organizations haven't quite caught up with the role that the fathers are playing. 

There is still a view in a lot of organizations among senior managers who might be in their 40s or 50s or 60s to assume, "Well, if you're married, then even if you have children, you don't have a significant amount of caregiving responsibilities, because that's what your wife does." There's a generation gap there that exists between the experiences of those senior leaders, and the experiences of guys who have wives with very responsible jobs and their wives may very likely be earning more money than they are. 

I think organizational systems and organizational culture hasn't quite caught up with what the realities are for today's men. Finally, I think men still grapple with the, "No matter what we say about being an enlightened father and being hands-on caregiver, at the end of the day, aren't I going to be measured in terms of how good a financial provider I am?" I think there's this dissonance that exists between men's sense of, what am I supposed to be doing and what am I able to be doing? 

Men, typically, if you look at men's experience, they tend to work more hours than their spouses do, they tend to travel more than their spouse does. A lot of times, they get themselves in job situations that don't necessarily lend itself toward equality. I think all of those things contribute to the dilemma that men feel in terms of trying to be a shared caregiver. 

Emily: It certainly gives you a new sense of empathy for what working dads are struggling with every day. 

Brad: Yes. I think they're feeling what they're missing. That's why they feel more conflicted. It's not because they're doing more in the home because when you look at both caregiving and domestic tasks, women do about twice as much per week as their spouse does. 

Emily: I can attest to that. 


Brad: You can. My wife would too. They are doing more in the home, but I think the fact that fathers are away from the home more, either in terms of long hours or business travel or whatever it might be, probably lends itself to them feeling more conflicted about their situation. 

Emily: These two aspects of their life don't necessarily have to be in conflict, right? 

Brad: Right. 

Emily: What is the working dad's role in trying to make this balance work a little bit better for dads to come? What's the company's role? 

Brad: I think the company's role is, if possible, to visibly and conspicuously support fathers' roles in the home. A lot of the companies that we work with, obviously, they have a lot of programs aimed at women's advancement. How can we help women succeed in their career? How can we help women find work-life balance, how can we help women reach senior roles within the organization? That's great. A lot of those programs that they have in that direction are really focused on the women. Let's give them more training, more mentoring, more support, whatever it might be. 

I think the other side of that coin is if you're going to do that, and you really are trying to promote women's advancement, I think the flip side of that is are we promoting men's roles in the home? Or do men who take advantage of any kind of work-family supports, tend to feel that they are looked down upon as a result of that. I think from an organizational perspective, it's great to celebrate women and to try to think of ways to help women to progress. 

But the other side of that is you have to be willing to say, we celebrate the role that men play in the home and when men say, "I have to leave today at five o'clock to pick up my kids and I have to do that every day now that we have children because my wife has a responsible job and we're trying to share caregiving," that has to be something that's acknowledged and if not rewarded, at least it shouldn't be in any way stigmatized. If a company offers leave for working parents then if a father takes advantage of that, that should be supported. 

Emily: Because even if that's not helping to support women at that organization, it's helping to support women whatever their career may be. 

Brad: Absolutely, yes. If we're going to reach parity at some point and we're going to have gender equality, the only way that's going to work is if men are playing a more conspicuous, more hands-on role in the home. 

Emily: There's clearly been a shift over time and amongst younger generations. Has your research found that this is actually true about the generational differences between working dads? 

Brad: We found that it was true, but not to the extent that people think it is. I think a lot of people think, well, as soon as those baby boomers finally retire, then the gen X's and the Gen Y's and whatever. The whole situation is going to be different and there's going to be tremendously, more egalitarian fathers. As every generation comes along women are doing better in higher education, they're landing better jobs, they're contributing more to the family. Obviously, there'll be increasing pressure on men to take an equal role in the caregiving piece, but it isn't the like, "All gen Y guys, they're all egalitarians." We didn't find that to be the case in the research that we've done where we tried to compare generations. 

Emily: Interesting. You've just released some new research on extended parental leave and it's hard to believe, and frankly, it's shocking that the United States is still the only industrialized nation without a national paid family leave policy. For now, that puts the onus on States and businesses to try and fill that gap. It would be great to hear a little bit about the types of companies that you did this research on and some of the top-level findings. 

Brad: Sure. One is we had four companies participate. They were all very large, very progressive employers. Their names would be instantly recognizable. There was a consumer goods company, an investment bank, and there were two professional services organizations. Some basic things that we found were that when we go back to the dad's now is that the expectation is, you can offer father's leave but they won't necessarily take it because of their fear of the stigma of being marginalized from a career advancement perspective. 

What we found was not surprising that like 97% of the women took all the leave that was available to them, 62% of the men took all the leave that was available to them, so that we found very encouraging and the leave periods these companies allowed with between six and 16 weeks of extended paid parental leave. When we talk about these dads 62% of them taking the full leave, we're talking about a fairly significant chunk of time. 

I think what was great was we saw that this idea that you can offer fathers leave but they aren't going to take it, just didn't hold true. In fact, when we asked fathers, why did you take the amount of leave you did? One of the reasons we offered them was because the company expected me to and 47% of the fathers say I took it because it was expected that I would take it. 

We thought when we flashback five years ago when we did a paternity leave study when fathers, by and large, if they got any leave at all, it was a week or less, fathers then thought if we got two to four weeks that would be generous. For 47% of the fathers would this expand that leave available to them, said, "The company expected that I would take the leave." That really speaks volumes about how far we've gone in terms of an appreciation of the important role that leave plays in fathers as caregivers. 

Emily: That's amazing. Do you think that's coming from the top? How do you think leaders are ensuring that their dads are taking this leave that's available? 

Brad: Yes. First of all, that when we asked an open-ended question, what's the one thing your organization could do to make it easier for you to take the leave or make it less of an obstacle or less of an impediment to taking leave? One of the first things people said is senior leaders have to A, walk the talk and B, they have to communicate clearly that this is an okay thing for fathers to do. 

In some cases, they had examples of where the leaders had done that, but by and large, I think anytime you're going through a change like this, a societal change, an organizational change, a cultural change, the more leaders can visibly inactively communicate that this is a good thing to do, the more likely it is that people are going to pay attention to that. I think fathers, we asked them what level of support they receive, and it was pretty high. I think senior leaders was one of the lower metrics and I think it was something like 65% of the men felt that they were supported by senior leaders in taking leave. It wasn't a very small percentage at all but I think they were hoping that 90% or 100% would say our senior leaders really support our doing this. 

Emily: It would be interesting to hear the differences between men and women and how satisfied they were with this new parental leave. 

Brad: Yes, the women as I said earlier, they took full advantage of the leave that was availed to them. The men did for the most part but not entirely. When we asked some things about how has this changed your loyalty to the company or your commitment to stay, loyalty and to the organization and commitment to stay with the organization definitely increased because of the leave that was made available to them. 

When it comes to looking at satisfaction levels the men overall were more satisfied than the women were with the time afforded to them for leave and that's not surprising because women have always had to take the leave. They've always been the person who's been responsible for that and so although they were satisfied with the amount of leave available to them, their satisfaction level didn't reach the levels that the men did and I think for the men, a lot of them look and go, "Well, this is a surprise. This is so new and different and I never expected that I would be entitled to take this amount of leave." Their satisfaction with the leave overall was higher. 

Emily: I remember how I felt when my husband went back to work because he did not have any leave when we had our children and I remember how I felt going back to work for the first time as well and there were a lot of tears and just internal struggles and challenges. Can companies play a role in helping to ease the transition back for both men and women? 

Brad: Yes, I think a couple of things that came up from the study there was that a lot of people mentioned, is there a way that I could come back in a more phased fashion. Don't go from seven days a week at home to 50 hours a week in the workplace in one week. What people suggest is there a way that I could start back say three days a week and then build up to four days a week and then five days a week. They weren't necessarily arguing that they wanted more time, but they wanted some of the time to be used so they can come back in a phased fashion so they can get used to whatever their day care provision is and get used to this new schedule that they have to implement. 

Emily: Were any of these companies offering that? 

Brad: I don't think so, but I think organizations that we talked to were saying, "Yes, we were considering doing that." The other thing is the increase in utilization of flexible work arrangements was something that people not only discuss but we asked them, "Are you using flexible work arrangements and if so more now than you were previously?" I think it was about half of the women and about a quarter of the men said, "I am using flexible work arrangements more now than I was before." I think this idea of offering some flexibility in terms of the way people return to work and also how they work, were things that people appreciated and felt like if the company could do that it would make the transition smoother. 

Emily: Brad, can you tell me a little bit about the differences between women and men around their goals for career advancement and how this played into that? 

Brad: Yes, so one of the factors that limited people in terms of the amount of leave they were taking or one of the things that they perceive to be a potential obstacle was that might have a detrimental effect on career advancement? That was the largest concern for men in terms of taking the full of leave available to them. Although 49% of men said that was their biggest concern 59% of women said it was their biggest concern. One of the things that struck us was the similarities between the kinds of things that they were challenged by and the kinds of concerns they had in taking the full amount of leave available. Men when they came back from leave had a slightly greater desire for career advancement. 

It was similar in terms of desire for greater career advancement, but women were more likely to say, "I don't want that," than men were for obvious reasons because of the juggling act that they had to perform. Women also felt their opportunities for promotion were less than men did after they returned from leave and I think that was a result of the bias that might exist in terms of the expectations that women are going to do more. But overall we were struck by how similar men's and women's experiences were and how similar their desires were in terms of after they come back from leave how would they be treated and whether or not they would have the same opportunities for growth. 

Emily: Before we finish I just want to ask you a little bit of a more personal question. You're the dad of three, a professor, former executive and researcher so both personally and based on your research, what piece of advice could you give to working dads? 

Brad: Well, first of all know that being a hands-on caregiver is not something that isn't expected of dads these days and, yes, you may be a pathfinder in your organization. If you say, "I want to take leave, I want to spend more time with my kids, I want to balance care giving with my wife and in a more equitable fashion," you may get looks at first, you may get people who give you a certain kind of reaction or some kind of a joke or whatever it might be, but the reality is that more men are stepping up and saying this is what I want to do and those who are doing it, the egalitarian fathers, are finding that they have a richer and more fulfilling level of life satisfaction overall. 

Part of it is just be courageous. You may be the first person in your organization or it may be well accepted that men do this, but whatever the case, step up and stand up for yourself and take advantage of what opportunities are presented for men to be more hands-on caregivers these days. The second thing, I think is just being in sync with your spouse because when we've looked at these different types of men, the traditional, the egalitarian, the conflicted or whatever it might be, the thing I'd say is that when men and women have the same agreement about who is going to do the majority caregiving who's going to do the majority bread wining it seems like their career satisfaction and life satisfaction are greater. 

When men feel like they're out of sync with or with their own expectations so the expectations of their spouse, that's when it becomes problematic. So I think it's just so important these days to make sure, with the vast majority of women working, vast majority of dual couples, both have careers, it's just so important these days for both people to be in sync about who's going to do what and how caregiving is going to be divided. 

Emily: Brad, thank you so much for joining us today. 

Brad: You're welcome. Thanks for having me. 

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 At 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.