Want women in leadership? Give dads paid leave
It's a diversity issue. If you want women in leadership and want to eliminate your gender pay gap, look at how you're treating your male employees.
In "Other Duties as Assigned," HR Dive's senior editor, Kate Tornone, weighs in on employment trends, compliance best practices and, of course, the situations that require you to go above and beyond your normal duties. Today: evaluating whether your policies might be hindering your diversity and equality efforts.
Employers with diversity and equality initiatives are doing important work. Pay audits are great, as are reviews of your recruiting and promotion procedures. But there are so many factors that contributed to the failings in these areas that, without addressing them, it's easy to see where even the best remediation efforts won’t prevent problems from re-emerging years down the road.
One of those factors is a lack of paid paternity leave, and it's well within your ability to address.
What's going on here
There's a lot of debate about the pay gap but even when you control for education and occupation, women are still only at 92 cents on the dollar, according to research that Georgetown University released in February. That's the average though. We also know, from a March University of Massachusetts study, that women with children tend to make less than other women, while men with children make more than other men. And when it comes to leadership, female representation still leaves a lot to be desired.
There are myriad reasons for this, ranging from steering that begins during childhood to outright discrimination, but an uneven distribution of household duties — especially childcare — is a big one. Among parents who work, women still spend more time, on average, caring for household members than men do, the Georgetown research says.
It's quite the cycle that we’ve created: offer or support only maternity leave; start to notice that women are the only ones out on leave; and then fail to hire or promote women because — wait for it — they're just going to take maternity leave. It's enough to make this working mom’s head explode.
Luckily, there's a relatively simple way to start making a difference: Get the fathers in your workforce to share that load.
It starts with offering and encouraging paternity leave because men who take leave in those early weeks are more likely to stay involved, according to research published in the European Journal of Social Security. That means that when their middle schooler is sick, it doesn't always fall to mom to call out. They take turns, burdening each employer or team equally, and chipping away at employers’ fear, assumption and sometimes self-fulfilled prophecy that women might be present for fewer hours because of their responsibilities at home.
We're starting to see promising research indicating that this can help, as reported in The New York Times earlier this year. And even years ago, Sweden had already figured out that while everyone's future earnings take a hit from leave, women's salaries don't suffer as much when their male partners take time off.
So, what does this mean for your workplace? I'm suggesting that you find a way to offer paid bonding leave for new parents, in equal amounts, to both men and women, without regard to sexual orientation or the way in which the child joined the family. It has to be paid; you've got to incentivize its use. And it has to be equal — otherwise you’ll get your very own U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) press release and settlement agreement.
And then you need a culture that not only allows but expects everyone to take advantage of this benefit. You need to ensure that all employees, at every level, expect that paternity leave naturally follows the arrival of a child and are on board with it, as is already often the case for maternity leave. Make it easy for dads to disconnect, and easy for them to step back in when the leave is over.
And, putting my compliance hat on for a moment, I want to be completely clear that we're talking about bonding leave. You're free, according to EEOC, to offer additional paid medical leave to an employee who has given birth, but when it comes to bonding time, you probably don't want to be the one who tests whether disparate leave amounts to sex discrimination based on gender. OK, compliance hat off.
Now, is paid paternity leave going to completely right a ship that's off course when it comes to gender diversity and equal pay? Of course not. There so many other factors at play, namely the fact that motherhood isn't the only reason for these gaps. But that's your achievable homework for today. If your company says it prioritizes diversity and inclusion, or is attempting a compensation audit in hopes of achieving equal pay, ask yourself whether any of your policies and procedures, like a lack of paid bonding leave for all employees, might be hindering those efforts.
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