Welcoming Back Mom: Gender Gap

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HR Magazine, June 2004 ​The new-parent kit that international accounting firm KPMG gives female employees about to take maternity leave also comes in a version for expectant dads—the toddler T-shirt inside, for example, says “My Dad Works at KPMG” instead of “My Mom … .”

The kit of infant accessories and information on company maternity leave benefits is part of the company’s efforts to encourage women who depart for childbirth to return to the firm. The effort to prevent child care leave from becoming a permanent talent drain also applies to male employees. Joe Maiorano, executive director of human resources at New York-based KPMG, notes that “about 70 percent of our new dads who are eligible to take parental leave have taken it.”

So are companies as worried about losing men as they are about losing women after their children are born? No, experts say. Women are still the primary caregivers of children and are more likely to make career sacrifices to raise children, according to the Cornell Couples and Careers Study, an examination of the work/life arrangements of 800 couples.

“Parenthood is a real watershed transition,” says Phyllis Moen, principal investigator of the Cornell study. She says that most working couples with young children adopt what she terms the “neotraditional” model, in which the wife decreases her work hours while the husband maintains his.

According to the study, 39 percent of all couples with preschool-age children and 43 percent of those with grade-school-age children are in this arrangement. Couples that decide that the father rather than the mother should cut back on working hours are rare—only 7 percent of couples with preschool-age children and 11 percent of those with grade-school-age children.

“Once children leave the home, however, work hours may shift once more,” Moen says. Indeed, among parents with “empty nests,” the largest share of couples—44 percent—are those in which both work at least 39 hours a week.

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