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Should Paternity Leave Be Mandatory?

Vivia Chen

April 9, 2013

Sleepy_Dad © Dragos Iliescu - Fotolia.comShould men be gagged, tied up, and forced to take paternity leave? Maybe so—if women are to have any shot at career success and true equality.

"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?

Related posts: Men on Leave Are Slackers at Home; Do Men Give a Hoot about Work life Balance?

Do you have topics you'd like to discuss or tips to share? Email chief blogger Vivia Chen at [email protected]

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I feel so badly for my husband right now. We only recently found out that his option of paternity leave is unpaid. This has pushed him to work over time in an attempt to budget so that he can manage a week or two off with our newborn. I understand that maybe paternity leave is not for every man, but for those men who have eagerly looked forward to being a parent they should be given every opportunity to be there for their family. I believe that younger men have stepped out from behind image of 1950's distant father, and many want to actively participate in their children's lives from the very beginning. Why should they be discouraged from that?

You really went right to the heart of the issues when you posed the issue " 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?". Where do our individual freedoms coincide (or clash) with mandates in the workplace? Our American culture is different from Europe, so to be effective I believe it would take decades to change our mindset. Possible, but not probable anytime soon.

This article and the comments are a vivid demonstration of why feminism is completely at odds with individual freedom and will inevitably lead to totalitarianism.

I have an idea: lets start this experiment by requiring the policy at women-owned businesses (real women-owned businesses, not just businesses that have womens' names on them to qualify for special loans and programs or because the husband has judgments against him).

Paid paternity leave is a great start. Here's the truth. There’s a lot of work at home that needs to be done and somebody has to do it. There are generations of precedent suggesting that it's the woman's responsibility and we need to change the paradigm and change the mentality of men and women about what constitutes "women's work". It's also great for the kids who develop stronger relationships with their fathers.


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About The Careerist

The Careerist takes an inside look at how lawyers shape their careers and manage their lives. The blog aims to dissect developments in the profession, provide useful information and advice, and give lawyers a platform to voice their views. The goal is to provide a fresh, provocative take on the state of lawyering.

About Vivia Chen

Vivia Chen

Vivia Chen, The Careerist's chief blogger, has been covering the business and culture of law firms for a decade. A former corporate lawyer, Chen is fascinated by those who thrive (as well as those who don't) in the legal profession. Her take: Success in the law (and life) doesn't always travel a linear path. If you have topics you'd like to discuss or information to share, contact her: [email protected]

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