More organizations offer paid parental leave, but many employees feel taking it will jeopardize their career advancement.

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I’m seeing more companies compete on who offers the best benefits. Some Seattle companies that come to mind: REI, which gives employees paid days off to be outdoors, and Amazon, which hosts concerts by award-winning artists. Then, there’s everyone else.

But nowhere has this benefits disparity been more stark than between the companies that offer paid parental leave to parents of all genders — usually highly-skilled workers in blue-chip companies — and the 88 percent of U.S. workers who have no access to paid leave.

But now new data show that even among the organizations that do offer this benefit, fewer than half of respondents surveyed said men in their organization feel comfortable using paternity leave. Over one-third of men and women said taking parental leave would jeopardize their careers, and 57 percent of men felt they would be perceived as being less committed to their jobs.

This data is dismaying, especially at a time when both our local and national conversation is focused around getting more government and corporate policies in place to support American parents. It’s especially important to make paid paternity leave just as available as maternity leave, so working moms don’t shoulder the entire responsibility of child care. Working moms face the most pervasive wage gap and obstacles to career advancement.

But as the Deloitte study shows, simply offering paid leave isn’t the solution to advancing women at work. It’s equally crucial to make it culturally acceptable for employees of both sexes to use it. A few key pointers:

Managers must lead by example. If leaders visibly and vocally take their paid leave, we’ll see that trickle down the organization so that everyone feels comfortable availing of it.

The Seattle Times Jobs columnist Ruchika Tulshyan. (Courtesy of Jama Abdirahman)
The Seattle Times Jobs columnist Ruchika Tulshyan. (Courtesy of Jama Abdirahman)

Create plans in advance that empower new parents to off- and on-ramp back to work. This is particularly important to ensure they don’t suddenly face a demotion or lose the chance for advancement opportunities or key assignments.

Measure it. Organizations must actively monitor whether men or women face negative ramifications for taking leave and take action. When I interviewed Shelley J. Correll, director of Stanford’s Clayman Institute of Gender Research for my book, she told me that even visible fathers — the ones who take paternity leave and are involved in actively raising children — face a wage gap. It’s not only female employees with children.

Why should organizations prioritize this? There’s good business reason for it — more employees of the millennial generation expect paid parental leave. If your company wants to engage what will soon become the largest demographic in the workforce, offering paid parental leave is half the strategy. The other is ensuring it’s culturally acceptable for your employees to use it.

Ruchika Tulshyan is a journalist, speaker and author. Connect with her on Twitter at @rtulshyan or her website