Dad Unfriendly Work


By Katherine Reynolds Lewis
c.2005 Newhouse News Service
Photo by Bob Black

Daniel Malinski drove over a curb when his wife told him she was pregnant. After digesting the shock, he started planning for the monumental change of having a baby.

Knowing that a few mothers in his office worked part-time from home, he asked to telecommute an afternoon or two a week. To his surprise, the request was denied.

"It was frustrating," said Malinski, 29, a customer support specialist in Urbana, Ill.

Fathers on average are taking on dramatically more child care and household responsibilities. In 1977, they did about 35 percent as much household work and 58 percent as much child care as mothers, compared to 67 percent and 77 percent in 2002, according to the Families and Work Institute, a non-profit research organization in New York City.

Now, as more men try to tap family-friendly workplace policies, many discover the arrangements aren't as available to dads as to moms.

"In society in general, they feel that moms in the workplace need more and dads are supposed to just work and deal with it and fit in," Malinski said. "I don't think it's fair. I think dads need support too."

Just as women have struggled for equal opportunity at work, men are fighting for workplace accommodation of their bigger roles at home. Resistance ranges from snide comments and negative signals to outright discrimination.

"Fathers are just as susceptible as mothers to a backlash when they prioritize family over work," said Shelley Waters Boots, acting director of the Work and Family Program at the New America Foundation, a nonpartisan public policy institute in Washington, D.C. "There can be some very significant consequences, including being fired."


In several instances, male and female lawyers were told different information about the availability of part-time work, said Joan Williams, director of WorkLife Law at American University's law school, where she is studying law firm retention.

"That is direct evidence of gender discrimination," Williams said. "The fact that it's happening is very shocking."

Typically, working dads see their kids in the evenings and on weekends. Many haven't been willing to make the sacrifices working moms make -- in pay and prestige -- in order to be with their children regularly during the workday, said E. Jeffrey Hill, associate professor at Brigham Young University in Provo, Utah.

"A lot of the family-friendly programs have been geared toward child care and leave and part-time employment," Hill said. "Men are very interested in their families, but they're not interested in losing money for their families. What fathers want is flexibility."

Hill said his research shows more than half the workers telecommuting or using flexible hours are men, whereas 90 percent to 95 percent of the employees who take unpaid time off or voluntarily work part-time are women.

There is evidence that men are increasingly willing to make a financial sacrifice as well. A study by the Radcliffe Public Policy Center in Cambridge, Mass., found that seven of 10 men in their 20s and 30s want to spend more time with their families and would sacrifice pay to do so. But a Families and Work Institute survey found that 43 percent of employed parents feared using flexibility might jeopardize their job or advancement prospects.

In some organizations, fathers are quietly discouraged from using flexible work options that may be officially available, Boots said.

"There are a lot of unwritten policies: It would limit your career, your pay raises, your advancement in the company if you would take advantage of this," she said.

Paul Vogelzang bewildered his colleagues and bosses by taking time off for Boy Scout meetings, soccer games and parent-teacher conferences. In the high-tech industry in San Francisco, everyone works 24-7 without question.

"There were some subtle things that took place," Vogelzang said. "Projects of really high importance wouldn't get passed my way. ... I also felt like customers would question my level of commitment, seeing that maybe I was trying to rush home to take a conference call from home so I could just be there."

Some fathers take pains to demonstrate that meeting family obligations won't detract from meeting those at work.

Charles Kelley, an architect and urban designer in Portland, Ore., chairs his sons' elementary school foundation, raising money to pay for teacher salaries that don't fit in the school's budget. But he always makes up any hours borrowed from his firm, either by coming in early or staying late.

"The danger from a professional standpoint is that your peers would find something to use against you," Kelley said. "Senior leadership has no problem. They see it as something they would applaud. People below me are supportive, because they say, `When I get there, that's what I want to do."'

The issue isn't just for white-collar workers. Low-income families are more likely to rely on fathers for child care, due to economic necessity, said Ellen Galinsky, president of the Families and Work Institute. And American University's Williams said that in one of four families with children, parents work different shifts, in tag-team fashion, to handle child care.

A recent study of published union arbitrations found that men comprised two-thirds of workers disciplined or fired for tending to care-giving responsibilities, Williams said. They ran the gamut from tag-team families to divorced fathers who didn't want to jeopardize custody, and often involved mandatory overtime or last-minute schedule changes.

"Work-family conflicts ... have a huge effect on ordinary working people, men as well as women," she said.

Employers who penalize fathers or don't give them the same opportunities could face gender discrimination lawsuits, Williams said.

Moreover, companies that aren't flexible are likely to lose good employees, male and female. As Galinsky observed, "People are more engaged and committed if you give them flexibility."

Gason Nelson, a New Orleans personal chef, left the restaurant business because it didn't give him enough time with his children.

Kevin McCarthy, a computer network consultant in Godfrey, Ill., quit after a series of tussles with his boss over volunteering at his daughters' school.

And Vogelzang left the private sector for a government job that gives him precious, low-key time with his sons, running errands and going to the gym.

"I felt very strongly that they needed a dad, present and accounted for," he said, noting that his older son in particular needs unstructured time to open up. "I can't just bolt into his room at 9:30 and say, `What's on your mind?' It only comes as a result of spending a lot of time with him."

(Katherine Reynolds Lewis can be contacted at katherine.lewis(at)newhouse.com)

This story was originally published Thursday, June 2, 2005.

1 comments:

Troy said...

Great article to re-post on Fathers Day weekend.

One small update, though: Since December 2005, New America's Workforce & Family Program (www.newamerica.net/workforce_and_family) has been directed by David Gray. The program is doing lots of interesting stuff these days, and New America -- where I also work -- practices what it preaches: It's very family friendly for moms and dads alike.

Shelley Waters Boots is now with another great organization, the DC-based Parents' Action for Children.