The stigma surrounding paid parental leave for fathers is dwindling as more companies are offering dads benefits and much-needed time off to spend with their children.
According to SHRM research, paid maternity and paternity leave jumped 5 percentage points in 2023 from 2022, with paid paternity leave now being offered by 32 percent of employers.
Many dads may not have taken paid paternity leave in the past, even when it was offered to them, but that is changing. In California alone, men filed 44 percent of bonding claims in 2022, which was up from 31 percent a decade prior, according to the state’s Employment Development Department.
Across the country, more workplaces are accommodating dads to ensure they have a healthy work/life balance.
“Men taking leave to mind their children is still a relatively new concept,” said Ciara Harrington, chief people officer at Skillsoft, a New Hampshire-based training company with 2,500 employees. “A significant cultural shift like this requires new dads to step outside traditional societal norms, focus on the needs of their families and their children, and lead the charge by taking advantage of the parental-leave offering. Personally and professionally, I know many fathers who have taken this time. I look forward to seeing many more in the future as it becomes a more common practice.”
In early 2023, Gatesman, an advertising agency in Pittsburgh with 62 employees, updated its policy—which previously covered only paid maternity leave for up to 12 weeks—to include paid paternity leave, according to Beth Varner, SHRM-SCP, vice president, director of human resources.
“This was an important move for us as an agency to offer new dads the opportunity to get to experience the joy of their newborns, while also spending time with their significant other as they heal,” she said. “We believe this improves overall employee retention, gender equity and better work/life balance as team members are family planning.”
Nathan Dean, benefits manager at Schell Games in Pittsburgh, which has 160 employees, echoed a similar sentiment.
“Giving dads time to bond with their new child and help care for the other parent is incredibly beneficial for everyone,” he said. “Various studies suggest that when dads spend time with their kids early on, it leads to better behavioral outcomes for kids in school. This could lead to less family stress and avoid distractions for employees down the road.”
How Dads Are Responding
While many dads may have been hesitant to take paid leave in the past, more are jumping on board with encouragement and support from their employers. At Illinois-based DeVry University, several fathers have expressed gratitude for this benefit, according to Dave Barnett, chief administrative officer.
“What is most important in promoting utilization of programs like paternity leave is ensuring that they stand on a foundational organizational culture that aligns to the program,” he said. “If employees feel that the culture and their leaders promote and expect them to use the program, they feel safe and encouraged in doing so.”
Since Gatesman started offering paid parental leave for dads, two fathers have qualified. “They were not hesitant to use the benefit,” Varner said. “In fact, the team highly encouraged it, stepping forward to make coverage plans while they planned to be out.”
Give Ample Time Off
Like many mothers, new fathers often receive an extended amount of time off from their employers. DeVry offers employees up to four weeks off at 100 percent of pay to bond with their child, as long as that time is taken during the first six months after the child is born, fostered or adopted. Plus, it must be taken in a continuous block of time. Mothers working at DeVry receive paid short-term disability leave at 100 percent of their regular pay for six to eight weeks (depending on the type of birth), as well as four weeks of paid parental leave at 100 percent of their regular pay.
Hot Paper Lantern, a marketing agency in New York City with 25 employees, gives dads four weeks off, which several have gladly taken, said Carol Dasaro, senior vice president of program management and operations. While mothers also receive four weeks off, they can take more time for additional medical leave with salary continuation based on length of service with the company.
“Recognizing that the role of a father is just as crucial as that of a mother in the early stages of a child’s life, we aim to foster an inclusive environment where all parents can bond with their new child without the stress of work obligations,” Dasaro said. “This policy also reflects our understanding of the evolving family dynamics and the importance of shared parenting responsibilities.”
Focus on Equality
At Boston-based Liberty Mutual Insurance, which has 35,000 employees globally, all employees can take advantage of the parental-leave policy. That includes eight weeks of bonding leave for newly born, adopted or foster children, said Monika Cox, executive vice president and manager of talent practices and employee rewards. For childbirth, employees receive an additional eight weeks of short-term disability leave.
“People do their best work when they are seen, supported and have an opportunity to balance work and life,” Cox said. “For new parents, this means offering benefits that give them the time they need to step away from work responsibilities, welcome their new child and support their expanding family.”
At Gatesman, paternity leave consists of four consecutive weeks at 100 percent pay. Maternity leave is paid up to 12 weeks.
“We are invested in building a culture that supports work/life balance and will continue to show up for our employees that way,” Varner said. “We find that by offering this benefit and flexibility, our employees have less stress and are able to be more engaged and productive at work.”
Like Gatesman, Skillsoft is inclusive, providing paid parental leave for up to 12 weeks. “Today’s workforce values benefits and family-friendly policies,” Harrington said. “Parental leave for new moms and dads enables true equity. It creates normality where the expectation is set that both mom and dad can take time off with their kids and removes the existing ‘stigma’ or traditional view where this time off applies only to women.”
Communicate Job Security
Before companies offered paid parental leave, fathers were more reluctant to take time off. But now that they know their employers are supportive, many dads are taking as much time off as they need.
“Our employees who have recently become fathers have not hesitated to take leave because they are assured of job safety and security,” Dasaro said. “We proactively encourage employees to take this leave by ensuring a stigma-free environment, providing reassurances about job security and career progression, and fostering a culture where taking leave is seen as the norm rather than an exception.”
Offer Additional Benefits
Many employers aren’t just supporting dads by providing paid parental leave—they’re also offering additional benefits targeted to family-friendly support. At Liberty Mutual, this includes up to $40,000 for adoption or surrogacy expenses, along with a $45,000 fertility benefit that does not require employees to have a medical diagnosis of infertility.
“There can be so many paths to building a family, which is why we provide a variety of family-forming/planning,” said Cox, who added that giving paid parental leave to both moms and dads is a win-win for everyone.
“People do their best work when they are seen, supported and have an opportunity to balance work and life,” she said. “For new parents, this means offering benefits that give them the time they need to step away from work responsibilities, welcome their new child and support their expanding family.”
Kylie Ora Lobell is a freelance writer based in Los Angeles.