Gender discrimination at work perpetuates when companies offer a comprehensive maternity leave benefit but not paternity leave.

Share story

JPMorgan Chase just got slapped with a class action lawsuit I’ll bet the bank didn’t see coming. Fathers are alleging the company discriminates against them by denying them the same parental leave benefits as their employees who are moms.

While JPMorgan Chase’s maternity leave benefits are generous for American standards — biological mothers receive 16 paid weeks, non-primary caregivers (dads, usually) are only eligible for two paid weeks leave from the investment bank.

According to Derek Rotondo, the employee who filed the charge, the company discriminates against men by “presumptively considering fathers to be non-primary caretakers” and designating primary caregiver status only to biological moms. When seeking approval for time off to serve as primary caregiver for his new child, Rotondo was told fathers were only eligible for the benefit if the child’s mother was incapable of caring for the child.

He expressed shock at the company’s policy in a statement announcing the lawsuit. “In 2017, employers should not dictate the parental roles of their employees along gender lines.”

As a working mom in the only developed nation without legally mandated paid maternity leave, I’m not shocked by JPMorgan’s stance. To many, the fact that the bank offers four months of paid maternity leave should be cause for celebration itself. I routinely meet mothers who head back to work within weeks of birthing a new child. But employers cannot rest on their laurels believing their work is done simply because they offer a comprehensive benefit for biological moms.

I now know personally how much paid leave for all parents can impact not only the life of the new child, but also in creating gender equity in society. Last year, after my son was born, my husband took all six weeks of the paternity leave he was eligible for from his employer. The effects were transformative on our household – short of breastfeeding my child, my husband participated fully in early parenting of my child. Nearly a year later, my husband is as involved in parenting our son as I am.

Six weeks of paid leave was not nearly enough. Even so, it transformed the gender dynamics in my home; something I worried about during my pregnancy. In the time my husband was home, I was able to advance my career, while knowing my newborn was bonding with his father. Moreover, it told our child that I, his mom, wasn’t his only caretaker.

For any company that believes in gender equity, not permitting male employees to take ample time to care for a newborn sends a dangerous signal – one that reinforces that only mothers can serve as primary caregivers.

In fact, when fathers take two or more weeks off after the birth of their child, they are more likely to be involved in caregiving for their child nine months later.

I applaud companies that offer comprehensive paid maternity leave policies. It’s abhorrent than one in four American mothers go back to work within two weeks of birthing a child. But without a comprehensive paternity leave policy, we’re perpetuating outdated notions that child care is solely women’s work and men should only be responsible for breadwinning. In fact, lack of support is why 43 percent of moms leave corporate America.

If we truly are working our way towards a gender-balanced workforce and society, we must create policies that support working mothers and fathers. Generous paid maternity leave without paid paternity leave only solves half the problem of gender inequity. Countries with comprehensive leave policies for moms but not dads still see low advancement of women in the workplace.

When we reinforce stereotypes that only women are responsible for caregiving, we perpetuate a society that penalizes working moms, fathers who want to be involved, and children who are denied the opportunity to bond with both their parents.

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