Companies and co-workers should encourage dads to take parental leave

June 7, 2021

Father’s Day offers an important reminder that employers need prioritize giving men not just the legal right, but the sincere freedom and encouragement, to take family time off, including parental leave.

Volvo gets it. The carmaker announced earlier this year that it will provide 24 weeks paid parental leave to all its employees regardless of gender in the first year of parenthood, so long as the employee has worked for Volvo at least a year.

Employees during their leave will be compensated 80% of their base pay, though U.S. employees will have the option to take 19 weeks fully paid parental leave in the first three years of becoming a parent.

Volvo’s CEO, Hakan Samuelsson, said the move is designed to attract talent, and credited the success of a pilot among European sales employees.

Most parents are already entitled to 12 weeks of parental leave under the Family Medical Leave Act, but this time off is unpaid, and many men don’t take the leave because of the stereotype against paternal leave for dads.

James Flaherty, an assistant attorney general for Virginia, enjoyed two months of paternal leave late last year and earlier this year following the birth of his daughter in September 2020.

He said it was not a difficult decision to do it. When his first child was born, he recalled he was working for a private law firm, and took only 10 days off.

“Having the ability to take this time with my daughter — I didn’t give it a second thought,” he said.

Most importantly, he credits his employer, the commonwealth of Virginia, which provides eight weeks of paid paternal leave. He felt there were “no barriers” to him taking leave, adding that his agency “was extremely supportive.”

He said his part of the office, in particular, was “fantastic.” His co-workers monitored his clients while he was out. He said he was lucky to have support of his leadership and co-workers.

Flaherty said he felt no reputational risk and didn’t have to worry about how his co-workers would feel; he knew they were supportive.

His advice to dads is that if time is available — take it.

He reflected on how much his child was changing almost daily. “This is time you won’t get back, no matter how hard you try. In 10 years, you won’t remember a specific meeting or project, but you will remember the first time your child laughed, or that sunny day you strolled them around the park,” he said.

Flaherty appreciated taking the time in one lump sum because, he said, it allowed him and his wife to keep their daughter out of day care until she was 5 months old.

Flaherty believes that employers can support parents by offering the benefit, being supportive and having procedures in place so that the work is spread out evenly during the parental leave and no one co-worker has to pick up the load.

Samuelsson, Volvo’s CEO, acknowledged that the move to offer expanded parental leave will cost millions but assessed the overall value of it to be beneficial to the company.

Employers should start by reviewing their parental leave policies, and expand parental benefits, including paid time off, for moms and dads alike, if feasible.

Equally important is for employers to break the stereotype around men taking parental leave. It is expected that women will take parental leave, but somehow for men it is frequently discouraged or ridiculed.

This needs to change.

As for Flaherty, his employer provided the paid time off, but equally important was that his department leadership encouraged the leave and helped make the time off viable for him and his co-workers.