Even shorter times away from work for working fathers are already difficult—and still unusual. A study by Boston College’s Center for Work and Family found that 85 percent of new fathers take some time off after the birth of a child – but for all but a few, it’s a week or two at most. Meanwhile, Women’s Health USA reports that the average for women who take leave is more than ten weeks. While the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) passed in 1993 guarantees 12 weeks (for companies over 50 employees) of unpaid leave around the birth of a child, Institute for Women’s Policy Research reports that only 10 percent of private sector employers offer access to paid parental leave.
Regardless of policy, such choices impact who moves up in the organization. Said one father I interviewed: “While you’re away, someone else is doing your work, making your sales, taking care of your customers. That can’t help you at work. It can only hurt you.” Women, of course, face the same issues of returning after a prolonged absence. But with many more women than men choosing to leave the workforce entirely to raise families, returning from an extended parental leave doesn’t raise as many eyebrows as it does for men. And the penalties can be stiffer, economically speaking. Men still earn more than women. Some of that discrepancy is because more women enter low-paying fields such as teaching, social work and nursing, in part because these fields tend to be more family-friendly.