I was speaking to a man in a male-dominated industry the other day who told me he wanted to take parental leave when his wife gave birth to their child.
But when we discussed this further he opened up and said he didn’t think it was a realistic option. For someone who is interested in having children, I found this really concerning.
A high-profile discussion of men taking parental leave is happening in the United States at the moment with the Wall Street Journal publishing figures suggesting there’s still a stigma associated with taking such leave, and Forbes following up with five men explaining their anxieties about taking time out after the birth of a child.
Typically, these issues are rarely discussed. More often than not, parental leave is purely associated with women, with the expectation usually on women to take the career break. There are 39,300 stay-at-home dads in Australia compared to 426,700 stay-at-home mums, according to the Australian Bureau of Statistics.
If there’s one thing we definitely know it’s that kids are expensive in the short and long terms. The average child of a middle-income family costs $458 a week, that’s $800,000 by the time they’re 21, expenses made all the more difficult with one of more parents taking career breaks.
It’d make sense for the choice regarding who takes parental leave to focus more on earning capacity rather than gender-based stereotypes on who should be the primary carer. In order to provide best for our children, we should be viewing our family’s financial outlook and who can best handle raising our expensive new additions.
As noted in the Diversity Council of Australia’s recent Men Get Flexible! report, 64% of fathers had a partner in the workforce, and 20% of Gen Y fathers had considered leaving their employers due to a lack of flexibility. The report also found that 79% of men accessed informal flexi-time. This shows that workforce attitudes are changing, men are becoming increasingly more interest in work/life balance options, and Australia needs to ensure that taking time off for fathers is not only possible, but socially acceptable too.
The reality is that men still face an unwritten rule that they should be the parent at work. Plenty of stay-at-home Dads have noted the pressures they face from employers and the general community on making the decision to be the primary carer. And then there’s the simple fact that they’re in the minority when it comes to taking the kids to family-groups, childcare, school or even the local park.
There is hope. I believe much of it lies with same-sex-attracted fathers: one will have to give up work, shifting at least part of the balance of stay-at-home Dads in the community.
But ultimately, we need to see more examples of men – at all levels of their career – taking career-breaks, working flexibly, and comfortably accepting the options for parental leave being offered by their employers. This will ultimately impact the workforce for the better, by giving more opportunities to women.