The Surprising Way To Support Women? Support Men.
I am a woman trying to “have it all.” I have a one-year-old son (who I love), an executive role at a local startup (which I love), and a standing reservation at an early morning Orangetheory Fitness class (which I really love).
The only reason I even joke about having it all is because my employer, Chatbooks, is dedicated to being a great place for women to work. From our work-from-home customer support team to our gender-balanced leadership team, we actively foster flexibility and creative ways to support women. It’s because of this that I’m often asked about the “one thing” we can all start doing to attract and retain women at all levels of our companies.
Based on academic research, our findings at Chatbooks, and my own personal experience, I have a surprising recommendation for how Utah companies can help women succeed in the workforce: offer and encourage paid paternity leave.
Yes, that’s right—paternity leave, with a “p.” Paternity leave is a specific policy that leads to a host of positive effects throughout the Utah ecosystem and instills many of the patterns and mindsets that we need to cultivate for high-achieving women to succeed. While it initially sounds counterintuitive, it’s one of the surest ways to support women’s careers. Here’s why paternity leave is good for women, men, and even business.
Paternity Leave Is Good For Women
Last winter, when my son was three months old, I headed back to work and my husband began his own three months of family leave. It wasn’t a no-brainer decision for us—my husband’s leave wasn’t paid, and while his employer and team were incredibly supportive, it isn’t yet a norm in his industry for men to take family leave.
We had read all the research about how leave would benefit my husband and our baby, but the primary reason we made it a priority for our family was a greater desire to support women. Of course, for my own career; but also for the larger ripple effect that each man who takes family leave contributes to.
For starters, when both parents take leave it creates patterns of shared parenting responsibilities and can help avoid the “second shift” phenomenon, where women who work full-time outside the home also end up doing a majority of household and child-raising chores.
This isn’t just a nicety: women whose partners take on domestic chores are less likely to report feeling depressed and are less likely to leave the workforce. And studies show that women’s long-term salaries increase for each month of leave their partner takes, possibly because they can invest more of that “second shift” bandwidth back into their careers.
At work, normalizing family leave helps decrease unconscious bias. Unconscious bias, or putting mothers in a “mommy track” box, shows up in unintentionally in hiring decisions, project assignments, business travel opportunities, and more. When our mindset is that men and women are equally likely to take family leave (and take on other parental responsibilities down the road, like staying home with a sick child or picking a child up from daycare) we can reduce bias and build more gender-balanced teams at all levels.
I see this first-hand at our Chatbooks executive team meeting each week, where we run through who is going out on family leave and discuss plans to cover their work. We offer paid leave for women and men (and strongly encourage people to take their full leave) and have found that it helps gender-normalize how we think and talk about a wide range of work-life issues.
Paternity Leave Is Good For Men
My husband often talks about how much he loved having such an intense bonding period with our son, and how even today—months after he’s gone back to work full-time—he’s a more engaged and able father because of it. Research backs him up: men who spend time with their infant children feel an overall increase in well-being, satisfaction, and fulfillment.
On the work front, spending extended time as a primary caregiver actually makes men better at their jobs. Studies, including a landmark one from Yale, show that men are more empathetic after spending time with their young children. In fact, certain areas of men’s brains strengthen when they spend a significant amount of time on childcare, including the parts associated with emotional response, multi-tasking, problem-solving, and relationship building.
Paternity Leave Is Good For Business
My husband went back to work refreshed, re-energized, and ready to jump back in to do his best work at the end of his three-month leave. We survey men coming back from leave at Chatbooks, and they say that it was one of the best experiences of their lives. Something that matters in a tight labor market where we are always looking to hire and retain top talent. New research shows that millennials see paternity leave as a top employer benefit, one that is just as important as healthcare, and are more likely to join a company that offers it. An Ernst & Young study found that men who received paternity leave are “far more engaged and trusting of the organization.”
Businesses across Utah, including local governments, are taking note and implementing their own inclusive family leave policies. Erin Litvack, deputy mayor of Salt Lake County, says that the county’s six weeks of paid paternity leave is a way to “walk the talk” and appeal to both new and existing employees in a tight job market. “It’s so important that we offer all parents the chance to step away from their job, connect with their child, and adjust to a new schedule.” She adds that paternity leave is also a way for businesses to create a positive impact in their communities. “Our mission is to serve our community, and supporting our employees and their growing families is one way we embrace that.”
How To Get Started
To support women in your organization—and to support all women in Utah—one of the first tangible steps we can take is to support paid family leave for both women and men.
Here’s a playbook you can steal: start with 4-6 weeks of paid family bonding time for everyone, with an additional 8 weeks of medical leave for birth mothers. And this leave shouldn’t have to all take place right when a baby is born; it might be more helpful later, like when the mother returns to work. Encourage all men to take their leave (and to take additional unpaid leave if they show interest). Consider flexible and reduced work schedules for everyone. Have an on-ramp as people come back to work.
None of this is free, especially when you’re one of the first companies to do it. In fact, family leave is quite an investment—we lose significant work time from highly-valued employees. But we believe that this investment is worth it. The women on our team benefit, but also the female partners of our male employees, and Chatbooks benefits from generous family leave policies found at other companies. As more companies offer and encourage taking paternity leave, we will together build an ecosystem that supports women, families, and business in Utah. Will you join us?