Even in countries with paternity leave enshrined in law, caring is ‘stubbornly regressive’
Many men would like to spend more time with their partner and newborn following the birth of a baby, but in many countries, even in those countries where paternity leave is enshrined in law, workplace culture and gendered roles in caring for children remain ‘stubbornly regressive,’ researchers have found.
Looking at the paternity leave experiences in French accounting firms, researchers found that many men are pressured to delay or forego paternity leave because of workplace obligations.
According to the article published in the journal Accounting Horizons, a range of experiences are associated with fatherhood and paternity leave including low levels of moral and material support provided by their employers and difficulty reconciling fatherhood and their professional demands.
The researchers also found a tendency by the new fathers to consider parental leave as “an extended vacation” rather than a time to support and bond with their newborn child.
“Most men are reluctant to take their allotted leave simply because they understand how their professional world works,” co-author Professor Claudine Mangen from the John Molson School of Business said.
“Parental leave is accepted for women. But men who take it are seen as violating the norm that they should focus on their profession. While we know women pay a professional price for focusing on raising children, men are very worried that they will pay an even higher one.”
Legal but not encouraged
The researchers kept the sample size deliberately small for this exploratory study. They interviewed 13 men working in auditing firms in France. The sample included partners, senior managers, managers and a senior, and all but one had children. All worked at mid-tier firms or at one of three Big Four (KPMG, PwC, Ernst & Young, Deloitte) firms.
The researchers identified five themes in their interviews:
Fathers are reluctant to take paternity leave. Those who did were likely to schedule their leaves around peaks and troughs of the work year, often in August.
Paternity leave periods are incompatible with professional work. Many fathers delayed or forewent their leaves due to work constraints.
Firms accommodate mothers more than fathers. In France, women are entitled to 16 weeks of leave. Fathers are legally entitled to five weeks. Also, the researchers found that firms were eager to plan for and advertise maternity leaves in ways they did not for paternity leaves.
Paternity leave periods are considered vacations. Both fathers and their colleagues often viewed time away from work as an opportunity to relax with their families and cut down on work, not to provide intense care for their newborns.
Fathers’ emotional experiences vary. Some disliked care work or discussing personal affairs at work, while others were frustrated or stressed about requesting leave and having work intrude on it. Still others expressed regret at missing paternity leave or family life due to work.
“We wanted the study to provide a range of experiences because we did not know whether men were actually happy with the status quo. It turns out that many of them are not,” Professor Mangen said.
“Men are worried about the pervasive culture of overwork in the workforce — and not only in professional service firms.”
As a result of the findings, researchers believe that organisations should be reassessing their efforts in fostering equitable workplaces, and rethink their strategies around gender inequality if they are serious about their publicly stated goals.
“Firms need to take a long hard look at the unarticulated assumptions around work and hierarchy,” she said.
“One assumption is that a senior leader is a man who does not engage with his children. Senior leaders are role models, so this has an effect across the company. Entry-level accountants who have children will understand the implicit message being sent by those at the top.”
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