Reasons why corporate dads don't take parental leave

Try not to become a man of success, but rather a man of value.
— Albert Eintein

Even though there are so many personal and broader benefits of taking parental leave, 95% of Australian dads still don't take more than 2 weeks leave. Sadly there are many barriers for corporate dads taking extended forms of parental leave. Some of these may include:

  • Negative impact on a Dad’s career progression if he takes primary carer leave e.g. dad no longer seen as taking career seriously, being passed up for promotion, pay rise or being assigned desirable projects.
A study by Deloitte found that one in three men claim their role would be in jeopardy for taking parental leave. Of those surveyed, 54% also thought that men were judged more by their colleagues for taking the same amount of parental leave as women.
  • Financial cost to the dad/family if paid parental leave is not offered or is inadequate to meet the financial cost of taking time out (e.g. if the difference between current salary and the government's Parental Leave Pay Scheme at minimum wage is too significant). Families need to find the right financial balance when deciding who should take parental leave, and how much time to take. 
  • Social expectation that Dad's should be the primary bread-winner. Gender-based parental leave policies are based on the assumption that dads earn more than women so will not take on primary carer responsibilities for children. But this is no longer reality.  Today, 70% of parents are dual career couples (78% for Millennials). Earlier last year (2017), Roy Morgan Research revealed that 52% of women now claim to be the primary breadwinner. Yet dads who are not the primary breadwinner may feel pressured into refusing primary carer leave to save face among peers and colleagues, even if it does not make financial sense for their family. Organisations may be guilty of fuelling this unconscious bias by through gender-based parental leave policies or maintaining a cultural narrative that expects dads to refuse parental leave even if it is offered. 
  • Workplace culture unsupportive of dads taking parental leave.
E.g. According to data submitted to WGEA, all six of Australia's largest law firms (>1,000 employees) offer primary carer leave of 14-18 weeks for men and women. However, the percentage of male employees actually taking primary carer leave averages just 4% across these firms, with the highest uptake being only 8.9%. Two law firms recorded 0% of male employees taking this leave. This suggests that cultural issues across these firms (and many others) could be one of the significant factors deterring dads from taking leave, even when it is offered to them.
In an extreme but perhaps relatable example in the USA, A Boston sports talk show host said on air what most people fear is whispered about dads who take leave. The talk show host criticised his colleague, calling him “soft” for taking two weeks off upon the birth of his son, while claiming that it was “insane” that major league baseball players could “can take a week so they can stay home and tickle the baby”.
  • A dad's lack of confidence in looking after a baby for a sustained period of time. However research has found that caring for an infant is a learned skill which simply takes time and practice. 
  • Traditional views of family roles held by dads or their broader family (i.e. that parental leave is the role of the mother while the dad’s role is of the primary breadwinner).

Some of these factors can be negated by addressing corporate policy and culture, while others can only be addressed by dads themselves. At the end of the day, if corporate dads are going to play a bigger role in the lives of their children, they need to want to take parental leave. It also needs to be financially viable for them to do so. Much can still be done to educate dads on the importance of spending time with their children to encourage them to take any or all parental leave that might be accessible to them.