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Survey: Dads Fear Being “Mommy Tracked” If They Take Paid Leave

Dads still want to take paternity leave and still feel like they will be sidetracked in their career if they take it.

A mid-June of 2021 poll from Harris Poll and Volvo Car USA has found that 62 percent of men who were surveyed believed that there was an implicit norm that men should not take paternity leave, even when offered it. That same poll found that nearly 70 percent of respondents said it was a “badge of honor” to take as little leave or time off after birth as possible. This is a problem.

Though the poll is small — just 501 respondents who are full-time employed and have had a child in the last 5 years or plan on having one in the next 5 years — it backs up other research that shows that when it comes to paternity leave, many men don’t take time off or the time off they want to for fear of workplace retribution.

A small mountain of studies have shown the effect that masculinized work culture has on working dads, leading them to not take full access to benefits that may be offered to them.

Actively and visibly taking leave is one of the main actions a manager can take in order to change these perceptions and increase the percentage of men taking leave, and the time they take it, in individual workplaces that offer the essential benefit. But for as long as paid leave isn’t normative across the workforce, and is treated as a nice-to-have, not a need-to-have, it’s hard to see how a critical mass of dads will take leave in general.

Actually passing a federal paid family and medical leave program for all workers, whether or not they have it offered at their workplace, would change the game enormously. In the meantime, men are struggling.

The survey also revealed that 59 percent of respondents said “no one at their company takes full paternity leave time,” and over half of respondents were afraid that “taking six weeks of paternity leave will set their career back.” (These findings in the survey are also backed by other research, particularly by Richard J. Petts.

But despite these workplace pressures, the study shows that men want to show up for their kids and their partners. 80 percent of respondents “wish they had more time to bond with their child when they were born,” and over half were concerned about being able to adequately support their partner after birth. Other research shows those early weeks are crucial for men to figure out just how to care for their babies alongside their partners.

57 percent of respondents said that paternity leave policies could actually lead them to second guess having a kid, and 71 percent said they would consider switching jobs for one with better-paid family leave, while 83 percent said they strongly believe that being an involved parent makes them a better employee. 

Given that research has shown that when men do take leave, they bond better with their children, they are happier with their partners, report better marriages and a more innate understanding of the workings of their household, and report feeling less burned out, stressed out, and happier with their employers, something’s got to give. But when will it?