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The Surprising Ways Paternity Leave Can Help Women in Business

By Dan Atkerson on March 14, 2016

The lack of women in business leadership roles is a problem that many have attempted to address in many different ways. But one new study has found that paid company paternity leave can help women in business, perhaps even more than mandatory paid maternity leave.

The U.S. is one of the very few countries that does not have federal laws mandating that new mothers be given paid maternity leave. Though some companies do offer paid leave, by law mothers are guaranteed 12 weeks unpaid leave in the U.S., meaning only that their jobs are protected. This results in many women returning to work early.

In virtually every other country in the world, mothers are still paid at least a percentage of their salary while on maternity leave. Paternity leave may be less common, but those countries that do offer fathers paid time off after a baby have been shown to have significantly more women in business leadership roles.

How Does Paternity Leave Help Women as Well as Men?

The reason women seem to benefit from men being given paid time off is that programs like paternity leave encourage both parents to take responsibility for the child. In the U.S., most women are implicitly expected to take care of the children and family, even women who have more demanding jobs than their partners. This is a cultural problem that is reinforced by the fact that only women are guaranteed parental leave by law.

It is an insidious form of gender discrimination, because it prevents women from doing as much at work as their male counterparts. The added responsibility women have over their families means that more women give up leadership roles or do not apply for promotions because they are quite simply too busy.

However, countries that acknowledge a father’s responsibility to his child create a more family-oriented culture that takes the pressure off of women. When a mother is not expected to take on all the responsibilities of child-rearing, she has more opportunity to excel at work and gain an executive position.

Many businesses still have no women in executive leadership positions, and one reason may be the lingering cultural expectation of women to take over all familial responsibilities. Paid maternity leave as well as paternity leave could encourage women to stay in demanding jobs even when they wish to start a family. The fact that companies with women in corporate positions tend to be more profitable may be the incentive many institutions need to start offering these benefits to employees, benefits that most other countries in the world already guarantee.

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