Tuesday, June 17, 2014

An ode to working dads.

I have a good dad. Some of my best memories of my dad of him involve covering the walls of our dining room with paper so that I could practice writing, or sitting down reading books or doing math problems. Growing up, the memories shift to coaching little league, swimming in the ocean, and waiting in long lines at Great Adventure. In between all the play, he worked … hard. I remember my dad sometimes working three jobs — by day he taught special-ed in the Philadelphia School District, at night he taught classes at the local Penn State extension campus, and on weekends he managed my grandfather’s bar. He did all this so that he could provide as best he could for my family. And I am grateful.

Last Monday, the White House held a summit for working fathers, which highlighted on the following statistics:

  • In 63% of families with children, both parents work.
  • 60% of dads in dual-earning couples report experiencing work-family conflict (as compared to only 47% of moms).

Three days later, the Wall Street Journal ran an article entitled, The Daddy Juggle: Work, Life, Family and Chaos, which asked the question, “Can working fathers have it all?” The answer may lie in whether employers can get past traditional stereotypes about the role of men as breadwinners and women as caregivers.
Working against men is a stigma that those who identify themselves as active fathers are unwilling to work hard or put the company first.
A 2013 paper from the University of Toronto’s Rotman School of Management found that colleagues regard active fathers as distracted and less dedicated to their work. At the same time, a Harvard researcher has shown that men with children earn higher salaries when their wives work less than full-time.
Taken together, the evidence suggests that men in traditional breadwinner roles are rewarded, either because of cultural assumptions or because they are able to put their jobs first, while men who act as caregivers are hurt for doing so.
I don’t think dads necessarily want to “have it all.” Here’s what I do think:

  1. Dads want to be offered the same flexibility as women to balance their jobs and their work. Employers beware. Getting stuck in traditional mindsets by offering flexibility and balance to women, but not men, is discriminatory. 
  2. With technology making communication and instant access more feasible than ever, there is little excuse for employers not to try offering flexibility to their workers (men and women). Today’s employee is tethered to his or her iPhone. Employers should take advantage of this access. Give your employees some rope. If mom or dad has to take a child to a doctor’s appointment, or wants to volunteer at school, or coach a team, let them. They will still answer calls and return emails, because it’s their job to do so. And, if they don’t, then you have a performance issue, not a flexibility issue. We are all accessible around the clock. There is simply no excuse for an employer not to offer flexibility to all employees—men and women—whose jobs permit it.