With more than half of working fathers saying they find it difficult to balance professional life and family life, companies are paying more attention to what dads want. “As a working dad myself, I know well that flexibility is key to balancing work and family responsibilities,” says Peter Fasolo, chief HR officer at Johnson & Johnson, a founding sponsor of Working Mother’s Best Companies for Dads initiative. “Johnson & Johnson does just that by providing benefits like onsite childcare and extended leave for all new parents—including fathers.” It’s partly how the company made the inaugural list of the Best Companies for Dads. While those perks, plus financial assistance with adoption and surrogacy, employee-resource groups and the like, go a long way in supporting fathers, there’s more to be done.
“What’s going to make a difference is having a culture that not only has these policies for fathers but also promotes the idea that dad as caregiver is just as important as mom as caregiver," says Brad Harrington, executive director of the Boston College Center for Work & Family. “Dads want to be and are capable of being good caregivers, and their role in the home should be treated with as much respect as moms’ role in the workplace.”
That helps women in a different way. “Women’s advancement will always be hindered if men’s role in the home is looked down upon,” he explains. “If a man can take time off for parental leave, then moms are in a better position to return to work more quickly, and in so doing, face a less interrupted career path.”
We spoke with founding sponsors of Working Mother’s Best Companies for Dads initiative about best practices and what’s to come in terms of keeping dads satisfied.
Microsoft is proudly embracing the cultural shift that Harrington described above. “We believe that parenting and caregiving are gender-neutral activities—our policies are inclusive so that mothers and fathers can have the same opportunities to engage with and bond with their family,” says Lindsay-Rae McIntyre, chief diversity officer. “Our aim is to neutralize the notion that parenting and caregiving are women’s jobs or just one parent’s job.” In addition to 12 weeks of paid leave for dads, the company will increase its subsidized backup care from 100 to 150 hours in January 2019. In the future, says McIntyre, the company hopes to enhance offerings for parents of older kids, including its College Coach program, parent coaching through the employee assistance program and resources for parents with children with learning disabilities or behavioral challenges.
Microsoft also offers an active parents employee-resource group for dads and moms to connect and learn from one another. It’s about the community, says McIntyre. “Generally dads want what all parents want: the opportunity to be present, at their best, engaged and balanced for all the moments that matter at home and at work.”
Boston Scientific also believes that communication is key when it comes to keeping dads satisfied. Since 2017, the company has been conducting regular “real talk” sessions with employees to share feedback with leaders, as well as targeted focus groups and surveys to better understand employees’ challenges. “Working dads and moms alike cited struggles with family care, balancing the daily demands of life and the need for a range of long-term financial planning resources,” says Wendy Carruthers, senior vice president of human resources.
The company doesn’t hold routine meetings before 9 a.m. or after 4 p.m., for example, which allows parents to better handle kids’ morning routines, and leave in time for pickup or other after-school activities. Other benefits include options for telecommuting, flextime, compressed workweeks and gradual return. Childcare is also something the company takes seriously. Not only do the largest office locations offer onsite care, but “because we heard that employees struggle with unexpected childcare needs, we offer subsidized, vetted backup care,” says Carruthers.
Most importantly, though, the company is trying to encourage employees to use these benefits. “We’ve learned that there can be a gap between offering benefits and programs and ensuring that employees are aware of them and feel supported in using them,” says Carruthers. Many working dads do not take their accrued vacation time, for example. “We’re looking to understand why and, from that, consider initiatives that provide vacation-time solutions that address situational needs and do a better job in helping them plan for and use their time off.”
Future policies might include life event–related webinars (experiencing a loss, preparing for a child going to college), as well as financial-planning services to assist working parents with issues of financial health, whether it’s repaying student loans or starting a college fund.
Although the automotive giant didn’t start offering paid paternity leave until 2016, “we have had over 1,500 people take advantage of it,” says Ken Barrett, global chief diversity officer. “It’s been great to see that ramp up.”
The company also has a program called Work Smarter, which allows flexibility for meetings and phone calls that accommodate varying schedules. “There’s been a lot of push from employees—since we are a global company—to watch the timing of meetings, especially if you have global responsibilities and have to take calls from all over the world,” he says. “The opportunity to be a truly mobile worker means I can be wherever I need to be. So if I want to get to my kids’ ball game in the afternoon, I can get out there, take the call when they are warming up and then be there for my kids instead of having to physically be elsewhere.”
The company is also seeing more dads come through its returnship program, which onboards engineers who have been out of the workforce for 2 to 22 years. When it started three years ago, participants were all women. But in this year’s cohort alone, there are four men—and three are dads. “They may have taken time off to be at home,” says Barrett. “Maybe their partners had a better position, but now they want to get back into the workforce.” It’s just another example of the changing dynamics of the future: “Just like moms used to offramp for a bit and then wanted to come back, now we are seeing more dads staying at home while their wives are working—and they want to have a re-entry program, too.”