There are times when you don’t need to be an expert on gender issues to realize that the world is trying to tell you something. For years we have listened to the seemingly unending refrain about the gender pay gap. We’ve also heard about the difficult juggling act women have trying to fulfill their profession obligations while still shouldering most of the responsibilities on the home front. We know that when women become mothers, their careers plateau — or even derail. Women are certainly doing better in the workplace today, but they’re still not invited into the boys club at the top. Women CEOs in large companies remain a very rare species, with only 6% female CEOs in the Fortune 500. And last, but certainly not least, the #metoo movement has made us all painfully aware of the amount of sexual harassment women continue to face in the workplace.
We’ve heard it all before but things don’t change, these issues are as intransigent as ever. Perhaps, we’ve been looking for answers in the wrong places. Maybe it’s time to stop expecting women to solve all these problems and instead, turn to the men. After all, don’t men hold most of the power in corporate America — and almost every other kind of large institution — — government, military, higher education, healthcare, etc.? But if we look only to the leaders who run these institutions to address these problems, we’re abdicating our personal responsibility. Maybe this Father’s Day we should, as Michael Jackson famously suggested, “start with the man in the mirror.”
So let’s start there. According to the census, there are 73 million fathers in the US. If we’re honest with that guy staring back at us, each of us has a high degree of control over what happens with ourselves and our families. So let me address my thoughts to that large and too often silent majority of men who, like me, know in their hearts it’s time to step up.
For the past decade, in my work as executive director of the Boston College Center for Work & Family, I have spent much of my time researching fathers. New dads, at-home dads, working dads, Millennial dads, dads who take paternity leave and dads who don’t (given how few organizations offer paid leave, it’s mostly been dads who don’t).
What I’ve learned is fairly encouraging. In the fatherhood groups we’ve studied, 99% of fathers we surveyed felt their employer should offer paid paternity leave — the operative word is paid. 94% of dads agreed that if they were exploring a new job, they would consider how much it would interfere with their ability to care for their children. 77% of the fathers state that they would like to spend more time with their kids than they do at present - only 1% said they’d like to spend less. Nearly 70% see their role as a father as equal parts breadwinner and caregiver and more than 2/3 say care-giving should be divided 50/50 with their spouse.
And among Millennial parents that we studied comes this interesting statistic: When asked “Would you consider being a stay at-home parent if your partner made enough to meet your financial obligations?”, 44% of the mothers said “yes” but a whopping 51% of the fathers did. When I’m being cynical, I joke that’s because the fathers don’t understand the job description, but Father’s Day is not the time for cynicism.
All this tells me that men are more aware than ever of what they’ve been missing by being too work-centric. Given women contribute a higher percentage of family income today than ever before, men need to step up on the home front. More importantly, I believe they sincerely want to, but something is holding them back. We could blame it on their socialization, the stereotyped beliefs of “what real men do,” the terrible way fathers are portrayed in the media, or the pressure men feel to put work ahead of family. But beyond all these reasons or more likely because of them, our research shows us that 37% of dads feel internally conflicted between their roles as professionals and parents. They hear the signals that society and their employers send and they feel trapped in a state of confusion about what’s the right thing to do. Our research shows how damaging this conflicted state is, and how much it undermines fathers’ sense of satisfaction and fulfillment in both the work and family domains.
I started this piece by raising the list of gender inequities that have dragged on with no sense that time will resolve them: gender pay gaps, women needing to do it all, discrimination against working mothers. Maybe we fathers are waiting for someone else to act, someone we feel is empowered to resolve these problems from a more powerful perch then our own. But in this year of the #metoo movement, when women at all levels are finding the strength and courage to take charge of the volatile issue of sexual harassment, let me suggest another possibility.
73 million men have the opportunity this Father’s Day to make a real difference in addressing gender inequality at home and in the workplace. To speak up in our organizations and demand respect for dad’s roles as caregivers and to be allies for women as they seek equity and fairness. And we can work with our partners at home and ask, “What can I do to make this Father’s Day a new beginning? How do I stop aspiring to be an equal in parenting and instead, become one.” Let’s do it for our partners, let’s do it for our daughters, let’s do it for our sons, let’s do it for our families. You have the power to make this happen.
Come on dads, #timesup.
Dr. Brad Harrington is Executive Director of the Boston College Center for Work & Family and a research professor in the Carroll School of Management.
Follow Brad Harrington on Twitter: www.twitter.com/@DrBradH