Paid Leave Policies Need To Treat Men Like Women

Doug FrenchDad 2.0 Digital, Fatherhood on Friday

In 1965, David Letterman was a geeky undergrad at Ball State University with a neck-beard and a radio show. And parental leave of any type was a wisp of an idea among second-wave feminists who wanted women to stay in the workforce after World War II.

Fifty-five years later, Letterman’s alma mater published a first-ever study of paid leave policies at Fortune 500 companies, which account for more annual sales revenue ($14.2 trillion) than the combined GDPs of Japan, Germany, the UK, and India. Given their hegemony, the examples these companies set have a huge ripple effect on the way businesses treat working families. And though the progress has been considerable, there are some dispiriting facts we need to confront:

  • Of the 500 companies, 147 didn’t provide any details about their paid leave policies. (Really?!? You’ve got that much cash rolling in, and you can’t be bothered?)
  • Of the 353 companies that did participate, 28% don’t offer paid parental leave at all. (Really?!? Not even a little bit of help for the families in your employ?)
  • Of the remaining 254 companies, nearly half offer at least twice as much paid leave to moms as to dads.

That last point might seem harder to Really?!? at, because of the physical toll that childbirth takes on a woman’s body. But that imbalance of treatment, according to study co-author Richard Petts, is a big reason gender inequality persists, and why people still think “moms need to be at home taking care of their kids, while dads can come back to work much more quickly because that’s not their responsibility.”

Moms know this, and they’re very extremely pissed off. Jessica Valenti went so far as to specifically call dads out. We have to admit we were a little put off by the “old-fashioned shaming,” but we also recognize that most of the dads in our community are anecdotal outliers.

So what’s the radical answer? The best way to get people thinking of moms and dads equally is to treat them to paid leave equally. Pump the brakes on how we fetishize work, offer dads as much time to bond with their newborns as moms do, and strongly incentivize dads to take it.

Valenti writes that “a woman’s working hours need to be valued in the same way men’s are,” and we agree enthusiastically. But in order for that to happen, a man’s childcare hours need to be valued in the same way women’s are.

We’re going to keep hammering away at this with our friends at New America and PL+US and Third Path and countless others. And if more Fortune 500 companies get on board, we could see lasting change while David Letterman is still an aging vagrant with a hedge-beard and a Netflix show.


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