A new SHRM study should have employers reexamining their policies on parental leave


On average, organizations gave mothers 41 paid days of maternity leave, compared with 22 paid days of paternity leave for fathers. That statistic comes from 2016 Paid Leave in the Workplace, a survey recently conducted by the Society for Human Resource Management.

Does this disparity demonstrate discrimination against men?

Not necessarily.

If the “maternity” leave includes both time spent to bond with a newborn child and time for mom to recover from childbirth, then the comparison between maternity leave and paternity leave is not apples to apples.

Consider this guidance from the EEOC:

Leave related to pregnancy, childbirth, or related medical conditions can be limited to women affected by those conditions. However, parental leave must be provided to similarly situated men and women on the same terms. If, for example, an employer extends leave to new mothers beyond the period of recuperation from childbirth (e.g. to provide the mothers time to bond with and/or care for the baby), it cannot lawfully fail to provide an equivalent amount of leave to new fathers for the same purpose.

Even if the disparities in the SHRM survey do not establish rampant discriminatory parental-leave policies, in a section of the survey entitled, “What do these findings mean for the HR profession,” SHRM stresses that employers re-evaluate the message that these parental-leave policies may send to their workforce:
  • A comparison of the days of maternity leave awarded per year versus the days of paternity leave awarded reveals that organizations could be reinforcing gender roles in society and the workplace. The 2016 Employee Benefits report indicates the percentages of organizations offering maternity leave and paternity leave are similar; however, this research exhibits possible inequities in the amount of parental leave offered to men and women, given that the average days of maternity leave were almost double the amount awarded for paternity leave. This imbalance may force mothers to stay at home and discourage fathers from taking time off to care for a newborn.
  • The differences in parental leave offered to mothers compared with fathers (41 days of maternity leave, compared with 22 days of paternity leave) indicate that organizations still expect mothers to take on the majority of early infant child care. Differences in leave benefits based on gender could, however, be increasingly questioned by employees both in relation to gender equality and equality of paid parenting leave benefits offered to same-sex and opposite-sex couples with children.

Sounds likes a two-edged sword: one blade cuts women by reinforcing the stereotypical expectation of mom staying home to care for baby; the other blade cuts men by shortchanging them on bonding time with a newborn.

A U.S. Department of Labor Policy Brief offers these best practices:

When the work culture is supportive, fathers are more likely to take leave and to take longer leaves. Some employers are leading on paternity leave, including major tech firms that typically offer between 6 and 17 weeks of paid paternity leave. Paid paternity leave may be a key workplace benefit for retaining high-skilled workers. In a 2014 study of highly educated professional fathers in the U.S., nine of out ten reported that it would be important when looking for a new job that the employer offered paid parental leave, and six out of ten considered it very or extremely important. These numbers were even higher for millennial workers.