Fathers at Home: Better for society

On International Men’s day (19 November 2016) ANZ launched their enhanced parental leave policy. The enhanced policy now gives secondary caregivers two full weeks of paid Family Leave, doubling the paid portion of the bank’s family leave policy.

This is well above the current legislative requirement for employers to provide one or two weeks of unpaid partner leave. It was a big call at an organisation that has over 8,500 employees in New Zealand alone.

Creating space for dads in the workplace

The new policy kicked in on 1 January 2017 and aims to remove some of the financial barriers that prevent secondary caregivers, new fathers in particular, from staying at home after the birth or adoption of their child.

These kinds of policies support a father’s involvement in the day-to-day aspects of parenting from the earliest days of his child’s life. They have a number of flow-on effects for fathers, the employer and for society more widely.

At the internal launch event a number of ANZ managers, all proud fathers themselves, talked about the benefits of an early hands-on role with their children. New Zealand Olympic legend Mahé Drysdale shared his experience of taking three months out from his rowing career to become a stay-at-home dad. That experience has made him fully appreciate the effort required to raise a family, how it is a team effort and it is now a conscious part of any career decisions he is making.

Why is parental leave important for fathers?

Laying the foundations for paternal involvement

Many studies have shown the ongoing benefits of a father taking an early hands-on parenting role. An American study quoted by the New York Times found that even after controlling for fathers’ commitment levels, those who took an early practical role in child care were more likely to continue to play this role throughout their children’s lives.

And more fathers want to be in this position. A recent Monash University study of 951 Australian fathers found that 85% said they would step away from work to look after their baby for 3 months or more if there were no financial barriers. Respondents to the UK’s 2017 Modern Families Index further reflect these attitudes, with 53% of millennial fathers saying they want to move to a less stressful job and 48% saying they would take a pay cut to achieve a better work-life balance.

Healthier, better-rounded menfolk

Men who engage more with their children report greater life satisfaction and are healthier, both physically and mentally.

Research quoted in the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) paper “Men, Masculinities and Changing Power” found that men who take on greater caregiving roles experience deeper connections with children and partners and are more likely to have better physical and mental health. In addition, men’s increased participation in children’s lives lead to more positive outcomes for children.

ANZ has seen this in action. At the launch event, an ANZ manager described his four months parental leave as deeply enriching—for both his home and his professional life.

Creating the environment for change

Achieving gender equality is complex. To enable more women to stay in the workforce and step up to leadership positions, we need to create a society that has a different attitude towards caregiving roles and flexible work.

Creating an environment where parents can take time off work is a step towards normalising flexible working arrangements, and ultimately, achieving this shift in attitude. But it’s not just about changing hearts and minds. There are direct flow-on benefits for women’s equality that are achieved by encouraging fathers to be more engaged at home. Economists say that an increase in stay-at-home dads can increase women’s participation in the labour force for the simple reason that women are able to work more outside of the home when they’re not responsible for all of the childcare.

This is further reflected in a study by the Institute for Labor Market Policy Evaluation in Sweden, which found that a mother’s future earnings increased an average of 7 percent for every month of leave the father took.

Achieving better parental leave provisions for fathers

To help make these societal shifts organisations need to follow ANZ’s lead and demonstrate their commitment to paid parental and family leave for both parents.

Organisations also need to encourage their male employees to take advantage of the options available to parents and to remove the stigma around paternity leave in particular.

One way to achieve this is to encourage role modelling from peers and those further up the chain. According to a study published in the American Economic Review, when a man’s co-workers took paternity leave, it increased the chance that he would take it by 11 percentage points. This is borne out anecdotally by the work of Professor Michael Kimmel that examines this issue, amongst other topics.

To achieve a more equal, healthy society we need to create more workplaces where people can fully embrace all aspects of their lives, inside and outside of work. And to achieve this, we need to make space for both fathers and mothers in our organisations.