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Expanding Parental Leave Could be a Key Talent Attractor

As organizations look for ways to attract and retain talent, more employers should consider expanding paid parental leave.

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A study from the Boston College Center for Work & Family (the Center) revealed that most new parents — including new fathers — will take substantial amounts of leave if it is offered to them and aspire to share caregiving equally at home. But gendered norms persist, with both sexes stating that women still do more.

“While women still receive more support for taking leave from management and co-workers, the support men receive is increasing rapidly,” said Brad Harrington, executive director of the Center and lead author of the study. “Men’s and women’s aspirations and fears showed a high level of consistency. It seems clear that working mothers’ and fathers’ experiences regarding leave-taking are converging.”

The study entitled “Expanded Paid Parental Leave: Measuring the Impact of Leave on Work & Family” represents the latest report in “The New Dad” research series, a 10-year effort of the Center, which examines the evolving roles and attitudes of working fathers. This study examined the attitudes and experiences of 1,240 men and women from four large United States-based employers who were eligible to take between six and 16 weeks of gender-neutral, fully paid parental leave. Survey respondents were largely married or in a domestic partnership (97%), highly educated (99% bachelor’s degree or above) and from dual-earner households (89%).

Nearly all new mothers (93%) and a majority of new fathers (62%) in the study took the maximum amount of leave available to them. Moreover, men who were eligible for 16 weeks — the longest leave possible — took an average of 12.8 weeks or 80% of what they were offered. While the high uptake among women is not surprising, the amount of leave men took rebuts the conventional wisdom that “you can offer men leave but they will not take it.”

The study also reveals increasing support in the workplace for all parents taking leave. Nearly three-quarters (74%) of men and women agreed that their employer is equally supportive of mothers and fathers taking leave and more than half agreed that their workplace culture has improved as a result of the leave policy. However, men and women were most concerned that taking leave would negatively impact their career advancement with even more women (59%) than men (49%) agreeing that this consideration limited the amount of leave they took.

Taking leave appears to be having many of its intended benefits. More than 90% of men and women agreed that they have a deeper bond with their child and more confidence as caregivers as a result of taking leave. Men were more likely to report a stronger relationship with their partner, as well as greater life and job satisfaction, after taking leave. In good news for employers, 75% of new parents agreed that they are more likely to remain with their employer because of the leave policy.

Consistent with the Center’s previous studies, three-quarters of men and women said they strive to share caregiving equally with their partner, reflecting an egalitarian attitude toward dividing responsibilities at home. This is perhaps not surprising given the large number of dual earners in the study. However, less than half reported actually sharing caregiving equally — and only 2% of fathers report that they do more caregiving compared to 49% of women who agreed that they do more.


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