Fathers in the workplace – shifting paradigms and breaking the stigma associated with paternity leave
July 6, 2023
When Jagmeet Singh, the leader of the NDP, tweeted the birth of his newborn baby early last year and announced he would be taking some time off to bond with the baby, he put the spotlight on the issue of paternity leave. Many supporters of paternity leave celebrated the announcement, although some critics said framing the announcement as “taking some time off to spend with his wife and baby” did not go far enough. An opinion post by Elizabeth Renzetti in the Globe and Mail titled “Real Men Take Paternity Leave” argued that Mr. Singh missed the opportunity to embrace and showcase paternity leave by framing it as he did and not using the “p-word.”
When Ms. Renzetti reached out to Mr. Singh’s spokesperson to ask if he was on paternity leave, she noted that the spokesperson seemed eager to disassociate the MP from the leave by saying, “If you call it paternity leave, it implies he’s away more than he is.”
Mr. Singh and his spokespersons are not alone in worrying about how paternity leave would be perceived. Research has confirmed there is a stigma attached to men taking paternity leave.
According to a survey conducted by Dove Men+Care, fathers who take time off from work after the birth of a child encounter lingering social stigmas and old-fashioned beliefs about masculinity. The survey asked participants to vote on whether they agreed with the following honest online commentary:
- Paternity leave is for wimps.
- Fathers use paternity leave as a vacation.
- Bonding is for weekends.
The poll found that 25% of participating men agreed with the statement: “Bonding is for weekends.” This result indicates that there persists an ingrained traditional belief about men and caregiving.
Paternity rights in Canada
Currently, eligible parents are offered 35 weeks to be shared between them plus 5 extra weeks, aptly called “daddy days,” exclusively reserved for men on a use-it-or-lose-it basis. The leave is paid at 55% of eligible parents’ average insurable earnings or 33% for 61 weeks.
Quebec is far ahead of other provinces in utilizing the leave. Statistics from Statistics Canada show more than 85% of men in Quebec take advantage of the leave compared to 11% of dads in the rest of Canada.
The question is, why is there such a slow uptake of paternity leave in the rest of Canada?
One problem identified by researchers is cultural and societal norms. Traditional expectations of masculinity often clash with the idea of taking time off for caregiving responsibilities. Men are often expected to exhibit strength, be ambitious and have relentless work ethics. Fathers may fear judgment from others, including co-workers and supervisors, who may view them as “not very manly, or are somehow letting down the team” for prioritizing family over work. There is also the fear of the impact on their career, for example, that taking paternity leave may result in demotion, reassignment of duties, or pass over on promotion.
Some fathers may be concerned about the potential financial strain of taking time off work and the impact a reduced income during the leave will have on their family stability.
Ultimately, more fathers may need to be fully informed about their rights. A lack of resources and information can make fathers unaware of the positive impact it can have on their relationship with their partners and long-time benefits of their father-child bonding.
Benefits of Paternity Leave
There are many benefits associated with Paternity leave. For one, paternity leave challenges the perception of women as primary caregivers, promoting gender equality in parenting responsibilities and work-life balance. A recent survey by McKinsey & Company indicated that all the men who took paternity leave reported that it was a positive experience for them, and 90% noticed an improvement in their relationship with their partners.
The survey also shows that paternity leave helps create a strong bond between a father and his children from the start.
Paternity leave policies have been shown to improve retention rates. Men who take paternity leave report feeling more satisfied with their jobs and consider staying longer with their employers.
What can employers do to encourage paternity leave uptake?
- Comprehensive Paternity Leave Policies: employers should establish clear, accessible policies that specifically address fathers, signaling support for their desire to be involved in their children’s lives.
- Role Models and Leadership Support: Encouraging senior management to take paternity leave and serve as role models helps normalize the practice and demonstrates leadership support.
- Education and Awareness: HR departments should communicate information about paternity leave policies, eligibility criteria, and the application process to ensure men are aware of their entitlements.
- Supportive Organizational Culture: Fostering open conversations about work-life balance and family responsibilities eliminates fear of judgment and career setbacks.
- Enhanced Benefits: Offering extended paternity leave beyond the legal requirements may encourage men to take leave.
- Reintegration Plan: Creating a plan for employees returning from paternity leave, including “keep in touch” days, promotion opportunities, and flexible work arrangements, demonstrates commitment to supporting their transition back to work (this is a good idea for mothers on maternity leave, too).
- Manager and Supervisor Training: Providing training to managers and supervisors on the importance of paternity leave equips them with the knowledge and skills to support employees effectively during their leave and manage workloads.
 Ligos, M. (2000, May 31). The fear of taking Paternity leave. The New York Times. https://www.nytimes.com/2000/05/31/jobs/the-fear-of-taking-paternity-leave.html