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Unconscious Bias and Maternity Leave

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We often focus on the difficulties women face as they try to balance motherhood and their careers at the same time. It’s why companies offer maternity leave; they want to try to help mothers ease into their new role. Though companies and business leaders have good intentions when providing maternity leave, they may be exhibiting unconscious bias.

When a child is born, it’s not just the mother whose life is changed; the father’s life changes as well.

There’s a certain amount of bias that is shown when leaders support the mother’s need to be home with her newborn, but not the father’s. After all, long gone are the days where fathers work long days and have very little interaction or role in their children’s lives. More and more, both women and men are demonstrating the need for work-life balance and more family time.  

Emily Peck makes this point in her Huffington Post article “The Feminist Case For Paternity Leave.” While she admits that having more benefits for men seems like the last thing women need in order to gain workplace equality, she also notes that doing so actually helps women feel less pressure to come back to work right away when fathers are also spending time away from work.

“There’s little doubt that paternity leave is great for fathers, fostering a deeper bond with a child and a greater level of empathy for his partner. Less explored is the way giving leave to everyone lessens the stigma and the penalties women face at work when they become moms and begin the endless work/family juggle,” Peck writes.

Some companies have already implemented paternity leave policies, such as EY, a large accounting firm (formerly known as Ernest & Young). EY offers its new fathers six weeks of paid paternity leave, while new mothers also get six weeks paid leave. Another accounting firm, Deloitte, offers their new fathers eight weeks of paid paternity leave.

Fathers who work at these firms aren’t the only ones who benefit from these programs. For example, Deloitte found, once they implemented paternity leave, that “more than 50 percent of its new partners were women and minorities.” In other words, women like working for a company where men have the option to spend quality time bonding with their new child.

As inclusive leaders, it’s time for us to really look at how the family dynamics are changing.

It’s become increasingly important for working fathers to also have time to spend with their families. Given this shift, leaders need to be more understanding of what is important to all of their employees. Be inclusive!

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