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Why Men Are Scared to Take Paternity Leave

On average, companies offer new dads about half as much time off as new moms. That sends a message.

One would think that if given the paid time off to care for their newborns, men would take it. But even at the rarified companies that offer paternity or parental leave, new dads don't often take advantage of the benefit. Why not? Sure, there's the cultural stigma and the (legitimate) fear of losing out on job opportunities. But giving men less time off than women might also have something to do with it. 

Most organizations don't offer time off for new dads, and those that do give them about half of what new moms get, according to a new survey of more than 300 organizations from the Society of Human Resource Management. New moms receive an average of 41 paid days off, compared with 22 days for dads. When given the benefit, many men take some time off, but usually not more than 10 days. That's just half the time they're offered, on average, according to a survey by Boston College. 

"We say that it's important, but we're going to give you half the number of days," said Evren Esen, the director of workforce analytics at SHRM. "It's not really equal, and that gives a message to fathers." The message is: Your time off is less important than time off for mothers. 

Paternity leave, in theory, is good for moms, dads, babies, and even companies. Men are more involved in raising their children, babies bond with their dads, working moms see a pay boost at the office, and it helps with employee retention—to give just a few of the many reasons. 

Yet it's an incredible privilege for any working parent. Another SHRM survey found that 21 percent of organizations offer paid paternity leave and another 17 percent of companies surveyed offer all-encompassing parental leave, which includes all new parents, regardless of gender. Still, that leaves out most of the workforce, which gets only the 12 weeks of unpaid leave guaranteed to certain workers at certain companies under the Family Medical Leave Act. 

Offering equal leave for all new parents of any kind, also known as parental leave, is the first step in changing attitudes toward paternity leave. In the past year, companies such as Twitter, Neftlix, Etsy, and Facebook have all expanded their leave plans to include all parents, regardless of gender. San Francisco last year also passed a fully paid parental leave law.

Of course, even then, new dads still might not take all their time off. Facebook's chief executive officer, Mark Zuckerberg, took only half of the four months covered under the company's policy. But it's a start. "When it really is the same, then we're likely to see that expectation that fathers should and are expected to take the same amount of time as mothers," added Esen. 

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