Father Stress and Professional Success Workshop
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conflict they feel between work and family life and increase their
effectiveness and satisfaction at both.
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Slowly, employers adapt to new views toward fatherhood
By BLANCA TORRES
THE FIRST FLOWER basket the Leibowitzes received after their second daughter was born a few weeks ago didn't come from friends or family — it came from the father's law firm.
Along with congratulations, Gary Leibowitz's employer, Saul Ewing LLP in Baltimore, also is allowing him three months of paid parental leave.
"There is a life outside this firm, and the firm acknowledges it and supports you spending time with your family," said Leibowitz, 33, who lives in Pikesville, Md.
Leibowitz, whose wife, Dena, gave birth to Dillan on March 24, has not decided how long his leave will last; it will depend on his caseload. He took three weeks off when the couple's first daughter, Alexis, was born two years ago.
In a break with the past, Leibowitz and other dads born after the baby boom are trying to achieve a better balance between the demands of the workplace and raising a family. It's a balance women have been trying to strike for decades.
But even with more families juggling two careers, the trend of men taking leave or reducing hours has been slow to catch on, experts said, since most employers do not offer paid paternity leave. And some men still fear compromising their careers by taking the time, or simply can't afford to.
"Culture still doesn't support the notion that fathers need to be as engaged as women in their kids' lives," said Roland Warren, president of National Fatherhood Initiative, based in Gaithersburg, Md. "Businesses have a lot of support systems primarily for mom. ... When men try to take advantage of these things, although you can do it, there is still a notion that men shouldn't."
But career and human-resource experts said companies are taking notice that more men want such benefits. The Family and Medical Leave Act of 1993 provides workers up to 12 weeks of unpaid leave. About 15 percent of companies offer paid paternity or parental leave for an average of 25 days, according to the 2004 Benefits Survey of the Society of Human Resource Management, a national organization based in Virginia. Although up from 7 percent four years earlier, that percentage has remained virtually unchanged since 2001.
"The dramatic change is that men are doing this at all," said Joan C. Williams, professor of law, director of work/life law at American University Washington College of Law and author of "Unbending Gender: Why Family and Work Conflict and What to Do About It."
The shift, however small, is a result of a new mentality in the workplace, she said.
"Gen X and Gen Y men are demanding to have the ability to play a larger role in family life than their fathers did," Williams said. "They face expectations at home that they will provide family support for their wives of a sort that other men don't face and their fathers didn't face."
Leibowitz said he grew up in a time when fathers focused more on careers than family and working mothers were still relatively rare. That has changed among men his age.
"It's a balancing act," he said. "There are 24 hours in a day; you have to make a concerted effort to make time for your family. They are more important than your career, and they should not take a second seat."
Women struggled for decades to instill the concept of "family-friendly" benefits in workplaces, but employers need to realize the idea applies to both genders, said Rebecca Shambaugh, president and chief executive of Shambaugh Leadership Group, based in McLean, Va.
"The workplace is becoming much more integrated and homogenized," she said. "There is no more putting people into a box and saying, ‘This is your role.'"