Photographer: Reza Estakhrian/Getty Images

Men Are Afraid to Take Parental Leave. Guess Why

Paid time off for new fathers is on the rise, but fear of career damage is still prevalent. Sound familiar?

Men not taking time off to care for newborns, it turns out, is a difficult cultural norm to overcome. Parental leave policies that offer the same amount of time off to all new parents are on the rise. Yet fathers still don't want to take it. 

They're afraid. Men still think their careers will suffer if they take leave, according to a new Deloitte survey out this week. More than a third of the 1,000 respondents said they felt that taking leave would "jeopardize their position" at work. More than half said it would be perceived as a lack of commitment, and another 41 percent worry they would lose opportunities on projects. 

These fears aren't unfounded. Women have historically been penalized for taking time off for all the reasons cited by men: Parental leave often jeopardizes their position, deprives them of opportunities, and places them at a disadvantage to non-moms.

In fact, countries that offer more liberal parental leave policies have larger pay gaps, according the Organization for Economic Cooperation & Development, because women tend to take more time off than men. It follows, then, that if men act like women, they will also face the same discrimination. Hence the fear. 

But men actually have less to worry about, it turns out. Research has found that having a child boosts men's careers. Dads get a "fatherhood bonus:" Their earnings increase more than 6 percent for each kid they have, one study found. Part of that has to do with the fact that many don't take time off. But men are also perceived differently than women for having kids. Dads are seen as being responsible, while moms are perceived as distracted. 

Parental leave policies are supposed to even out these imbalances, ensuring that new moms aren't the only ones putting a dent in their career. All-encompassing leave policies shift some child-care responsibilities onto men, so they too can be seen as having priorities other than work. Everyone loses, so everyone wins.

"It has been historically difficult for women," said Deepa Purushothaman, the head of Deloitte's Women Initiative, said. "By encouraging all of our employees to take it, more women will take it." The absence from the office of men and women alike theoretically helps close the gender pay gap. 

Of course, all of this works only if men actually use the benefit, which, for competitive reasons, they have been hesitant to do. But the male fear factor is slowly changing: About a quarter of eligible dads are taking advantage of California's paid family leave, up from 17 percent five years earlier. 

Companies offering parental leave have also attempted to remove some of the stigma. Both Etsy Inc. and Twitter Inc., which this year expanded their leave policies, train managers to avoid bias against working parents and to support their careers while they care for newborns. Other organizations lead by example: Facebook Inc.'s chief executive officer, Mark Zuckerberg, took two months off to care for his child. 

"What I'd like to see is we encourage both our men and women to take it, where it is OK for both genders to take generous parental leave," said Purushothaman. "It's something as a culture we need to stress and make easier to do."

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