Although a lengthy paternity leave is not an option for some working fathers, many can take heart in a recent American phenomenon: the rise of the “father-friendly” workplace.
An increasing number of companies offer benefits such as flexible work arrangements, parenting education classes and on-site child care. Moms used to be the primary beneficiaries, but not anymore.
“We’re seeing that our members are being sensitive to make sure they’re meeting the needs of all their employees. They are being careful not to target messages just to moms,” says Cynthia M. Helson, director of communications for Employee Services Management Association in Oak Brook, Ill. The non-profit group has 3,000 members, mostly human resource professionals, representing 10 million employees nationwide.
In fact, given a choice between paternity leave or more flexible work arrangements such as telecommuting, most fathers would probably favor the latter, says James Levine, director of The Fatherhood Project at the Families and Work Institute. “The thing that most fathers and mothers want is flexible scheduling.”
Some companies go the extra mile in demonstrating how much they value men’s roles as parents. SAS Institute Inc., a software company in Cary, N.C., with 4,000 employees, offers numerous parenting classes and workshops.
“One of the more interesting topics we have is ‘Breastfeeding for the Expectant Father,’ which explores what your life is going to be like when you have a child who’s nursing and how you can help,” says Jack Poll, recreation and fitness manager for SAS. “Our educational seminars cover a million and one topics, ranging from child rearing and surviving adolescence to choosing a college. Our male employees attend in the same numbers as the women.”
Wade Horn, president of the National Fatherhood Initiative, attributes these new policies to a younger labor market wanting to spend more time with family and the need for companies to retain them. “It’s increased our consciousness that it’s not just mothers whom are valued but fathers, too,” says Horn.