It’s time we talk. About dads in the workplace. For decades, we’ve discussed and analyzed moms in the workplace and how on earth they should balance it all. We’ve talked about inadequate maternity leave and how moms are perceived upon re-entry to their jobs. We’ve looked at the trends that result in women bowing out altogether after the birth of a child because of the insurmountable costs of childcare and the seeming impossibility of having two career-focused parents.
But what we haven’t discussed nearly enough, in my opinion, is the perception of dads in the workplace and lack of support for working fathers. The term ‘working fathers’ almost seems ridiculous right? Few dads have conversations with peers and acquaintances about whether or not they stay home or work outside the home. I don’t even know if the term ‘working dad’ is a thing. It should be.
While we’ve made incredible strides in terms of how companies support working moms, we are lagging in terms of how the corporate world supports and perceives working dads. The fact of the matter is, we cannot fully support working and stay-at-home moms until we start supporting working dads, too. These things are inextricably linked. Somehow along this journey of balancing work and child-rearing, the onus has fallen on moms alone to solve.
We have more or less normalized the idea of a mom missing a meeting due to childcare demands, which has some upside in terms of moms feeling supported and empowered to take time to tend to their families. But in doing so, we have missed the bigger picture entirely. Why shouldn’t dads experience the same grace and leeway in the workplace when a need arises? By denying men that same flexibility and platform of support, we inadvertently perpetuate the notion that any and all domestic demands fall to the mom, regardless of employment status.
Let me be clear, this doesn’t just apply to dual-income homes. Moms who do not generate income and carry the torch on the home-front need support, too. Stay-at-home moms can get sick, have a doctor’s appointment, or any number of things that crop up in life pulling them away from childcare. What then?
The unspoken expectation is there is some sort of backup childcare in the form of a family member, friend, neighbor or paid babysitter. These options often have to be exhausted before defaulting to the dad. Heaven forbid a man steps out for a couple of hours while his wife goes to the doctor.
In Motherly's 2022 State of Motherhood Survey, data even shows that 58% of moms reported that the stress and financial burden of childcare have made them consider leaving the workforce, and 46% of currently unemployed moms who left the workforce last year point to childcare issues as the reason why.
How did we get here? Or maybe a better question is, why are we still here in 2022?
It’s because we still view men as secondary caregivers, not equal players in the realm of domestic responsibilities. Yet we’re expected to see working moms as equal players in the corporate landscape. As long as moms are expected to be the primary caregivers, it is a wholly unfair expectation—and just doesn’t add up. I don’t think the solution is as complicated as we’ve been led to believe.
Where we are
There are many factors that reinforce the trend of moms being the primary caregiver regardless of employment status. For one, dads in America are rarely given generous paternity leave. This supports a cultural expectation that men should go marching back to the workforce mere days or weeks after having a baby. Aside from the obvious challenges this poses to a new mom, it also significantly affects our expectations of what a dad’s role really is.
Cue the “Leave it to Beaver'' theme song. Dad goes off to work and provides for the family while mom stays home with the baby doing everything else—until she has to go back to her job and figure out a way to balance it all. Dads are often liberated from having to solve this conundrum while working moms remain shackled.
Dads also don’t get much leeway in the corporate world when it comes to stepping out to take a child to a doctor’s appointment or sports game or stay home with a sick kid. My friend's employer literally asked one time when he had to help with something childcare related, “Don’t you have a wife who can do that?” So yeah, that’s where we are in 2022.
Now, there are several “woke” companies that offer above-average paternity leave, and not surprisingly, these same companies tend to embrace the whole identity of their employees. Still, men on average in the U.S. take one week off after the birth of a child. This is in part due to the lack of a national policy for paid parental leave in the U.S. and the perception that dads are providers first, caregivers second.
In having conversations with my income-generating mom friends, I have heard them mention on numerous occasions that they are moms first, and work has to mold to whatever is required to fulfill childcare duties. Any employer or boss knows they’d be foolish to question this.
It has become an unspoken rule that we provide these “accommodations” to our working moms. We want to encourage moms to return to and remain in the workplace, don’t we? But in order to do this wholeheartedly, and not just aspirationally, we also need to provide the same unspoken (or spoken) accommodations to working dads. We cannot have one without the other. It doesn’t work and we set all moms up for failure by not recognizing this.
The assumption can no longer be that a dad is a secondary caregiver. Once we pass the physical birth and nursing stage, it’s fair game—or at least it should be. This is antiquated and does not make sense in a modern world in which moms want to achieve something outside of the home or need to provide for their family.
Embrace the whole identity of your employees
I think it’s as simple as working dads starting to have those transparent conversations with their bosses, and for bosses to lead by example. Let’s start seeing more men bringing family into the conversation and not just a passing remark about a fun weekend excursion.
I remember being on a call watching my male boss (father of two young kids) fold laundry as he led a team call, and he was not remotely apologetic about it. He also experienced frequent interruptions from his two kids during the pandemic and again, never once apologized. I was like wow, isn’t that something.
Meanwhile if my kids so much as breathed near my speaker I’d cough up an immediate apology for the massively distracting interruption. What he’s doing (whether intentional or not) is helping to normalize the radical notion of men as equal caregivers in the home.
Children sometimes have needs that require both parents to lean into the domestic domain a bit harder.
The pandemic posed unexpected challenges for dual-income households who faced the daunting challenge of homeschooling kids while managing demanding jobs. Many women stepped out altogether or asked for a reduced work schedule. The lives of many men continued mostly uninterrupted as if the pandemic and homeschool crises were just mild inconveniences, happening in the background, resulting in the occasional interruption of a work call. For a lot of moms, however, it was a war zone.
What the pandemic did do, however, was set the tone that men also live in a household with children. And those children sometimes have needs that require both parents to lean into the domestic domain a bit harder.
It’s time we see more men folding laundry in the background of a work call or holding a baby on his hip while speaking to a client. I’ve heard about countless moms physically nursing a baby while on a call. Yes, moms may have some unique multi-tasking gifts, but men do too and need the opportunity and support to flex that muscle more.
What if we saw more men cradling babies or bouncing wiggly toddlers during work? Or what if we heard more men talking about how they have to miss the 5 p.m. status call in order to take their daughter to soccer practice? What if your male boss who has young kids is the one to take a day off when one is sick? What if this all became normal? It is hard to imagine, but so were career moms once upon a time. And here we are.
Maybe it’s all in the words we choose. To circle back to the concept of working dads, why didn’t the shift happen when career moms became a thing? Why didn’t we expect more from dads right out of the gate? That is a massive cultural failing, but not one that is beyond repair. And what about same-sex couples raising kids?
Have you ever been on a work call where a dad is not present because he’s at his son’s baseball game? And then everyone goes awww, that’s so sweet. Do moms ever get that same reaction for doing the exact same thing? Of course not—because it’s expected. When a man does it, it’s novel and cute. When a mom does it, it’s just normal.
But we can and will do better starting with simple changes. To the people managers out there who are dads, please start talking about your family and encourage your team to do the same—male and female.
Be compassionate if a dad on your team needs to duck out for childcare duties. Check in with the dads and see what they might need in terms of support. Once we start doing this with more frequency, it will eventually feel normal.
Just like all trends, it takes time for change to really take root. Once it does, I believe we’ll see more of a balance for working and non-working parents alike. What is the downside of offering more support to both working moms and dads? I’m hopeful we’re getting closer to realizing there may not be any at all.
Motherly designed and administered this survey through Motherly’s subscribers list, social media and partner channels, resulting in more than 17,000 responses creating a clean, unweighted base of 10,001 responses. This report focuses on the Gen X cohort of 1197 respondents, Millennial cohort of 8,558 respondents, and a Gen Z cohort of 246 respondents. Edge Research weighted the data to reflect the racial and ethnic composition of the US female millennial cohort based on US Census data.