"They need to discover how wonderful it is to spend time with their new baby," says a female associate at a Wall Street firm. "And if you really want them to take equal responsibility at home, fathers should get the same paid leave as new moms."
You might think it's too radical/intrusive/ridiculous to give fathers the same leave benefits as mothers who go through pregnancy and childbirth. But it would certainly send a signal that child rearing is (or should be) a joint endeavor and not the primary domain of women. (Paid parental leave for both sexes is now common in Big Law, though men generally don't get the same paid 12 weeks or so that's now typically offered to women.)
But what red-blooded male would risk the stigma of taking parental leave? Wouldn't they be worried about being perceived as career wimps—particularly in a give-it-your-all profession like law?
To push more men to take paternity leave, some European countries are implementing aggressive policies. Writes Catherine Rampell for The New York Times:
Countries like Sweden and Norway have recently introduced a quota of paid parental leave available only to fathers. If dads don’t take it, they’re leaving money on the table. In Germany and Portugal, moms get bonus weeks of maternity leave if their husbands take a minimum amount of paternity leave.
And the upshot: These countries are seeing "gigantic increases in the share of fathers who go on leave," says the NYT. More significant, traditional gender roles are changing as a result.
Citing a new Cornell University study about the long-term effect of Quebec's paid paternity policies on gender patterns, the NYT reports:
Several years after being exposed to the reform, fathers spent more time in child care and domestic work—particularly “time-inflexible” chores, like cooking, that cut into working hours—than fathers who weren’t exposed to the reform. More important, mothers spent considerably more time at work growing their careers and contributing more to the economy, all without any public mandates or shaming.
Will American firms and corporations follow suit? Don't hold your breath. (Remember, only 16 percent of employers in the United States offer paid maternity leave. So in that context, big-firm lawyers are the fortunate ones.)
All of this raises the question of whether official policy can alter behavior. Is giving both sexes the same rights and responsibilities to care for a new child the key to achieving gender equality in the workplace and at home? Or are gender roles so ingrained that women with kids will still bow out no matter which policies are implemented?
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