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Alyssa Place (00:00):
Welcome to Perk Up!, a podcast about workplace culture and benefits brought to you from the team at Employee Benefit News. I'm Alyssa Place, executive editor at EBN. With Perk Up, my colleagues and I are sharing the stories of businesses who have implemented forward thinking, covetable workplace policies and benefits, keeping their employees happy and their company's bottom line thriving. This week, senior reporter, Deanna Cuadra explains why it's crucial for fathers to be part of the caregiving conversation. 

Deanna Cuadra (00:38):
Hi there, I'm Deanna Cuadra. Thank you for joining me. Regardless of one's gender, raising kids is no walk in the park. But today I want us to question why we often imagine the mother as a parent who attends every school event, the parent called When their Child Is Sick, the parent who gets their kid ready in the morning and the one who tucks them in at night. In other words, the parent who does the parenting all the while they often work full-time jobs to help support their families. The notion of the Supermom or the woman who has it all, is founded on the idea that a woman must be their family's primary caregiver and maintain a successful career without any slip-ups or complaints. Yet we have to ask at least for moms with male identifying partners, where are the dads in all this? At the onset of the pandemic, when daycares closed and schools went remote, approximately 3.5 million mothers with school-aged children either lost their jobs, took leaves of absence, or left a labor market. 

According to the US Census Bureau in recent years, data has shown that employed moms are only making 71 cents for every dad's dollar. The National Women's Law Center estimates that this amounts to a $16,000 loss for moms each year. The longstanding narrative that the man is the breadwinner of the family, that his place is in the office and not the home, is harmful to both moms and dads as they work towards a partnership that benefits each other and their families. It's a narrative encouraged by family members, friends, and employers, whether consciously or not. This is something Brian Anderson, dad of two young daughters experienced firsthand and to narrative. He has dedicated tree writing for moms and dads alike. Anderson is the executive director and co-founder of Fathering Together, a nonprofit organization that offers educational resources as well as in-person online communities. For dads looking for support and comaraderie in their caregiving journeys, the organization has begun partnering with school administrations and employers increasing dad visibility in spaces that often mistaken moms as a primary caregiver. 

In 2022, Anderson's book Fathering Together Living a Connected Dad Life was published. The story captured dozens of stories of dads who are working to be present, engaged parents and partners. Fathering together was inspired by Anderson's own feelings of isolation and dismissal. As a dad, after the birth of his first daughter, Anderson quickly realized that he expected to be there for his child or wife. Anderson worked as an interfaith campus minister for a university based in Chicago, and while his boss offered Anderson a bit of flexibility in his schedule after his daughter was born, it was a seemingly short grace period. On top of that, there was no paid paternal leave for moms or dads. 

Brian Anderson (03:16):
And so there was a very clear expectation that I had to get back to work, earn a living so that my wife and child could have a financial stable home life. I was the one that should be working. I was the one that needed to bring home the income and the financial support so that everybody else could rest easier, if that makes sense. And yet, at the time, my wife actually made more than me per hour. When you look at what we were doing in our careers, me being at a university in the chaplain's office didn't pay nearly as much as my wife who was a physical therapist. And so the challenge for me to be the full-time breadwinner put a different kind of budget fiscal responsibility upon my wife and I to think through some of those larger issues that didn't necessarily have to be the case. 

Deanna Cuadra (04:04):
This expectation was in part communicated by Anderson's former employer. They didn't offer paid paternity leave, which would've at least indicated that Anderson was expected to bond with his daughter in her first few months of life. The absence of this benefit can be damaging to fathers, mothers and children. Management consulting company McKenzie interviewed 130 fathers on their experience with paternity leave in 2021. A hundred percent of respondents were glad they took leave and would take it again. 90% felt it improved their relationship with their partner. On top of that, respondents felt their time at home allowed them to develop what they characterize as a special enduring bond with their child. Even more striking research from the Institute for Labor Market Policy evaluation found that mother's incomes increased by about 7% for each month that a father spent at home on paternity leave. Yet the US does not provide paid maternity or paternity leave, and in a majority of states, fathers are only entitled to 12 weeks of unpaid leave, which may not be a financially viable choice for the average family. The Department of Labor estimates a 70% of fathers take 10 days off or less when their child is born. Blessing Adesiyan, CEO of caregiving benefits provider MH Worklife and a mother of four believes child leave is an effective benefit only when both dads and moms get an equal amount of time off after the birth of their child. Otherwise, the employers sending a clear message. Dads are secondary. Adesiyan explains. 

Blessing Adesiyan (05:31):
Start from the source the minute men and women, the minute they welcome each other into the world, both parties should be entitled to an equal amount of parental leave in any company. Because when we look at companies that say, women or you get 16 weeks, which is still small in my opinion, but that's sort of the average for corporate America right now, 16 weeks for women. And then they turn around and say, oh man, you get two weeks. Or man, because you're the secondary caregiver, which is a word I don't ever want to hear again because there's nothing like secondary caregiver. So now they're like, oh, you're the secondary caregiver. So you get two weeks, so you get four weeks. What the message was sending is that that new baby, that new child, is not a man's problem. It's a woman's issue. 

Deanna Cuadra (06:22):
MH has partnered with companies including Indeed, AMN Healthcare, Mercury and MMGY Global, and one of the first things MH does after partnering with an employer is to evaluate their parental leave policy. While MH primarily provides what they call a work-life wallet, which automatically reimburses employees for personal care or caregiving related expenses, edition still encourages employers to go further. She views equally policies as a vital first step towards creating a workplace and not only supports families, but stands for gender equality. The next step edition encourages employers to keep their hybrid remote work structures in place rather than return to the office full-time. While there are a few silver linings that came out of the covid 19 pandemic remote work did encourage dads to take a more active role in the home. In a study from MH and care.com, nearly half of the male caregiver surveyed felt that remote work allowed them to spend more time with their children and save their partner's time they would've otherwise spent on chores in childcare. In fact, 32% of male caregivers found they were doing more cleaning. 34% reported doing more cooking than they did before going remote. And with better shared domestic responsibilities came better opportunities for women professionally. And the same MH study, 77% of men and women agreed that remote work created a more even playing field for career advancement regardless of gender. For Anderson paid leave and flexibility offers Dads an invaluable opportunity to connect with their children and become more emotionally intelligent, engaged dads and partners. 

Brian Anderson (07:51):
Studies show skin, skin contact between fathers and children is just as critical as it is with mothers and their children. And being physically, emotionally connected to your child is not something that's just a mom thing. Like dads time and time again work with me and our work stems ultimately from a place of emotional intelligence and helping dads to uncover the language of emotion that they can use with their children because they were taught not to show emotion and thus their emotional growth was stunted a lot. And they want to be silly. They want to show their children all the emotions that they have from anger to sadness, to envy and frustration and all the good and bad emotions. 

Deanna Cuadra (08:42):
But this growth cannot happen if a dad is sequestered in the office all day. Meanwhile, mothers are placed in a position where their careers and incomes will suffer likely due to cutting down hours or even losing out on promotions or higher bonuses known as the motherhood penalty. Women see their incomes dropped by an estimated 30% after they give birth for the first time according to the National Bureau of Economic Research. On the other hand, dads are often on the receiving end of the fatherhood bonus, seeing boosts in their salaries after the birth of their child by around 12% according to national think tank. Third way, it's a norm. Family shouldn't have to accept and employers shouldn't continue says [inaudible]. 

Blessing Adesiyan (09:21):
The perception is that once you are a mother in corporate America, that you somehow have lost your edge and that you somehow no longer have time to focus on your work or your deliverables as much as the next door employee who potentially is a male or a dad. What we've seen is that is this perception that we may not less competent after having a baby. And the opposite is true for men. There's actually what we call the fatherhood bonus, and that bonus is it comes in the form of promotion. It comes in the form of more money because there's this perception that when a man becomes a dad that one, they have more responsibility, and two, society believes that they have a partner, a woman who is subsidizing their care. So the trend has been around forever. It's actually not a new phenomenon and it it's widely known that the federal bonus exists and the motherhood penalty exists. And so that is actually one of the biggest reason why we have the pay gap, the gender gap, because our society rewards the people that have the most available time to work. And so the more a woman spends time caring for a child or for a husband or for a sick partner or for a sick parent, the less time they have for paid work and the more they're penalized even at that paid work because they're perceived as less committed. So it's a very awful cycle that has persisted forever. 

Deanna Cuadra (11:08):
It's the same cycle that not only propagates the gender pay gap, but relegates and limits women to unpaid domestic labor, namely caring for the wellbeing of their partners, children, elderly parents and home. It's estimated that women's domestic laborers were 10.9 trillion. According to Oxfam, a global organization dedicated to ending poverty, caregiving, and domestic work contribute more to the economy than manufacturing, commerce or transportation sectors. And as cruel as the system is to women, it doesn't do fathers any favors either as it alienates them from their families and demands, they work themselves to the bone. A point that doesn't escape edition's notice. 

Blessing Adesiyan (11:45):
And so we're not talking enough about the pressure that places on men. I mean, can you imagine you being told that it is your job to provide for this person or for this family, and now you have to figure out the mortgage, the tuition for college, the insurance and everything. So everything's on you. And that's why we see a lot of men. There's this pressure to perform, this pressure to work harder and longer because we've told them for centuries that they are the breadwinner, they're the providers. 

Deanna Cuadra (12:26):
It's important to acknowledge that this pressure doesn't stop with one's employer or benefits. Anderson underlines that. Mothers are universally seen as a primary caregiver by healthcare providers, teachers, fellow parents, friends and family. 

Brian Anderson (12:39):
So I find that I'm not viewed as a parent in the microaggressions that come out in conversations with people. And I know that's a bit of a buzzword, but what I mean by microaggressions is not that I feel like people are attacking me per se, but it's the kind of small comments that people say like, oh, my wife is my better half. Or What would you do without your wife in the home? And these kind of phrases or idioms that really speak to an era where the woman or the mother in the family unit really runs the home. And without them, everything would go bad. And I think in that way, there's a disempowering moment for me as a man and as a husband to think, oh, well, I'm off the hook then, but that's not who I am. Instead, I hear those phrases and I'm like, well, I actually do the cooking. 

And I kind of politely remind people that no dads have a lot to offer too and turn the conversation back around. And so those things happen at, I don't know, at school, I'll witness it, or even at the playground where it'll be me and a bunch of moms. And I'm not invited into that conversation in the way that I see other moms invited into. And it's not a overt hostile act, but it's just something. It's the vibe of the space that you pick up in those social settings. But it's also over the holidays we were visiting and I would have relatives or family friends that would make similar comments even when I would go to doctor's visits and be there with my wife. In those early stages, I was very rarely addressed. Most of the conversations were geared towards my wife and talking to her about the care that my daughter needed. 

Deanna Cuadra (14:40):
Despite society's expectations, Anderson has worked on breaking from the distant working father stereotype. While there's no such thing as a perfect 50 50 split of responsibilities, Anderson, his wife, both continue to work and adjust how much they take on at home based on their week-to-week appointments or schedules. Usually Anderson does the cooking and grocery shopping. He combs and braids his daughter's hair. He is often the parent the school should call if his daughters need help. But it's no easy feat to escape gender norms. In fact, not even Anderson's children can escape it 

Brian Anderson (15:11):
In a strange way. My daughters will sometimes also reinforce that I'm not a capable parent, not out of ill will, but they'll just say something offhand. And really some of it stems from they want mom because she's a girl just like them and they have a girl question. But they'll also sometimes make comments because they pick up things from their classmates who have parents who are a bit more traditional in their gender roles in the home. And I'll politely respond to my daughters in a developmentally appropriate way to say, well, that's not how we do things in this home. Or I can help you. I know how to comb hair. I know how to braid your hair. I've done it since you were a baby. Right? And it's a shame that they're picking up on those messages, but it's also just proof of how ingrained some of the gender norms are in our culture and in our society that they return from school or an outing surprised that Daddy does these things because they're now being made more aware of my sex or my gender as they get older. 

Deanna Cuadra (16:21):
Still, progress is more than possible whether these norms are enforced by employers once community or both ion and Anderson agree that dads can push past these expectations and build a family dynamic that benefits the whole family. And it starts with dads deciding to turn the narrative around themselves. For Anderson, this meant being incredibly intentional with how he and his wife divided domestic labor, ensuring they play to each other's strengths and continuously communicate about the best way to divvy up childcare and household chores. 

Brian Anderson (16:50):
So I will say we were already pushing past some of those gender norms without children. I, I'm the cook in our family. I love cooking. And so most of the kitchen and grocery shopping tasks were already on my shoulders. Don't, no one really loves doing laundry, let's be honest, but my wife is better at it so that it's not, we're just dividing everything 50 50, but dividing things up along where our gifts and talents and meal preparation doesn't necessarily take the same amount of time as the laundry. And so how do you balance that out more equitably in that sense? But on a very practical level, we ended up creating a family Google calendar where everything goes into it from therapy to doctor's visits, to who's doing what on the weekends and with sports and piano lessons, all of that kind of stuff gets stumped into there and really has been a lifesaver because when we're on the go, we can just open up our phone and check the calendar and know, okay, I've got this free hour. I can say yes to this work, this work invitation, rather than having to call my wife or her call me for everything that pops up. So that's been a huge life saver. 

Deanna Cuadra (18:09):
Anderson warns dads not to fall into the mistake of waiting for their partner to tell them what to do or essentially manage them in a true partnership. Both parties should know their responsibilities and express adjustments to each other when needed. If the mom has to ask their partner, do household tasks over and over again, or constantly instruct or correct their partner on those tasks, the data's just adding more to her plate explains Anderson, otherwise known as weaponizing competence. This behavior pattern may mean the partner is purposely pretending to be negligent or bad at everyday tasks like grocery shopping and washing dishes to get out of doing their part, knowing their partner will become frustrated and just do it themselves while the term is not necessarily gendered. When the hashtag weaponized incompetence went viral on TikTok with over 67 million views, it was mostly women calling out their male partners on trying to avoid domestic responsibilities. Anderson asked dads to reflect on their role in the household and whether their contributions are genuinely benefiting their partners and setting a good example for their children. 

Brian Anderson (19:08):
I was in an interview a while ago, or a panel rather, where somebody very innocently sort of posed the question of like, well, what more can women do? And I responded with, they shouldn't be doing anything. They've, they've already been doing so much. It's really up to men to figure it out, and why aren't men holding one another accountable? And so the harm really comes with reinforcing that women have to do it all. And so how we see the harm we're doing in women and in the reverse way, the harm we're doing to men, it's something that we need to really be addressing. And whether we call act toxic masculinity or incomplete masculinity, the terms are irrelevant. The reality is that by forcing women and men into these essential roles, we're doing a disservice to both of them and fully acknowledging that the greater harm is being placed upon women and girls than men.

Deanna Cuadra (20:06):
Anderson understands this change can happen overnight, but he knows from experience that having a community of dads who value the roles partners and fathers can make all the difference. That's why Fathering Together is founded on dads sharing their stories, questions, and fears with other dads, whether via Zoom or in person. Within five years, their network has grown. From a group of 50 friends to 125,000 dads across more than a hundred countries, Anderson feels ready for his organization to tackle bigger challenges, whether that's getting dads more involved in their children's schools or advising employers on how to better support their working fathers, such as through Dad focused ERGs. However, even if dads and communities embrace change, employers still have a major role to play in the fight for gender equity. Anderson and Ion both agree that the employer who not only provides caregiving benefits, but actively encourages moms and dads to use them is vital to breaking down gender expectations around parenting. For Ion, that means company leaders need to take a vested interest in who is using their caregiving benefits and make sure Dads know they're supposed to take advantage of things like paternity leave and flexible work hours. 

Blessing Adesiyan (21:11):
We look at all the benefits that we provide as companies and say, how do we make it equitable? How do we make sure that we're providing the same amount of benefits to men and women? How do we make sure that parents in our company or caregivers in our company have access to resources that they need to run their lives, their personal lives? Because whether we like it or not, the personal and the professional as intertwined, and a lot of time what we see is that women are the ones utilizing their caregiving related benefits and men are not. So how do we make sure that those things are being communicated and monitored? I want to see companies start talking about what is going on in their employee households instead of just simply talking about the Q2 reports. How about we ask some of the men in the room, when was the last time you did laundry? When was the last time you volunteered at your child's?

Deanna Cuadra (22:17):
Adesiyan understands that in today's economy, many employers may hesitate to add more benefits to their compensation package, but she believes benefits like equal parental leave policies, flexible work hours, and a modest monthly caregiving stipend for services like childcare, pet care and housekeeping are doable for many employers. Not to mention caregiving benefits are ultimately better for an employer's bottom line, given these benefits are associated with increased productivity and retention even in an unpredictable labor market. In fact, caregiving benefits are vital to the entire nation's economy. The Boston Consulting Group estimates us will lose about 290 billion a year in gross domestic product in 2030 if the number of working caregivers doesn't increase, and workers continue to leave the workforce to care for their families, but benefits are only effective if company leaders go one step further. They should make sure they're taking time off and spending time with their families themselves, underlines Anderson. 

Brian Anderson (23:10):
And so what I've seen working really well is when senior leadership is vocal about being a parent and taking time off when they have to be a parent, whether that is taking a half day to take their children to the doctors or just to be home because their kid is sick. It is taking time off to be a coach and being open about that in the workplace to say, Hey, I'm leaving at four o'clock every Thursday for the next 10 weeks because little league season is in full effect. Right? And not just saying it because it's a point of pride or something, but really saying it to set an expectation that, Hey, I'm the boss and I'm doing this. And this is a policy that everyone on staff from the lowest employee entry level associate to mid-tier senior leadership, whatever, that there's an expectation that it's okay if you need to flex your hours to be a parent to do that. 

Deanna Cuadra (24:06):
It's crucial that dads feel they aren't alone in wanting to spend more time with their family. Anderson knows the stigma can be overwhelming and isolating, but if the office can be a great space for working dads, then Anderson and Adesiyan agree that we have a shot at socioeconomic gender equity in our professional and personal lives, 

Brian Anderson (24:27):
Creating space for parents to not be seen as a black sheep in the workplace, or to assume that just because now that they're a parent, they're not going to dedicate themselves to their work is ridiculous. But when it comes to my child's life or my job, most people are going to choose their child's life and the relationship that they're cultivating there. And so having employers recognize that giving a little bit of space of to be flexible will actually benefit them because it's going to retain their top talent that much more, and it's going to create a healthy work environment. 

Deanna Cuadra (25:06):
I appreciate everyone who joined me today. I'm Deanna Cuadra with Employee Benefit News. 

Alyssa Place (25:13):
Thanks for joining us for this episode of Perk Up! That wraps season two. This episode was produced by Employee Benefit News with audio production by Kellie Malone. Special thanks to Brian Anderson from Fathering Together and Blessing Adesiyan from MH Worklife. Rate us, review us and listen to all of Perk Up! season two episodes wherever you get your podcasts. And check out more content from the EBN team at www.benefitnews.com.

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