Making Work Workable for New Fathers

February 17, 2021

Making Work Workable for New Fathers

The challenge of creating work/life sway for U.S. parents has eased dramatically on multiple fronts beyond companies’ recent extension of paid leave to new fathers. The private-sector practice will likely spread further amid a rising wave of governmental requirements.

Men in nations with paid parental leave help manage their households long after they resume work. Research has demonstrated that they “continue to perform 2.2 more hours of domestic work per week than men living with children in countries not offering that time,” the clinical psychologist Darcy Lockman stated in her book, All the Rage: Mothers, Fathers, and the Myth of Equal Partnership.

At American Express, a vice president named Andrew R. Johnson had just begun five months of paid parental leave with his first baby when we met. Several new fathers at his level or higher had recently taken long breaks from the charge card giant. The male executives’ lengthy leaves highlight how well American Express serves the needs of its U.S. employed parents. In 2017, the company enlarged paid parental leave to 20 weeks—plus up to eight weeks more for birthing mothers.

Parenting breaks previously lasted just six weeks for primary caregivers and two weeks for secondary caregivers. The limited benefit implied that “fathers are less valuable caregivers than mothers,” American Express stated in an outline of the company’s past and revised parental perks. Even today, “society hasn’t made it totally acceptable for dads to be home for an extended period,” observed David Kasiarz, the company’s executive vice president of colleague total rewards and well-being.

That’s why American Express gives frontline bosses temporary-replacement allowances to fill staffing gaps caused by parental leaves. Training prepares supervisors to manage the rest of their teams during those protracted absences. Leaders as high as executive vice president divulge their working-parent problems during regular fatherhood breakfasts attended by both genders.

“We wanted to overcome objections to the increased parental leave,” Kasiarz explained.

American Express also holds support chats for new or soon-to-be fathers where they discuss preparing for and returning from paternity leave. At a headquarters support session, Rajeev Subramanyam, a senior executive who took five months off following his son’s 2017 birth, told male associates at that support session, “Your career is a long road. This is just a blip.” 

To further increase paternity leave usage, American Express mounted posters of men and babies in elevator banks and other communal areas of its U.S. offices. “Future Dads, don’t miss these moments,” one poster read. Below a picture of a father cradling a sleeping infant, the caption added, “Take up to twenty weeks parental leave. You both deserve it.”

The result? “A majority of dads are taking all or some of the paid parental leave,” Kasiarz told me.

An additional U.S. perk that American Express inaugurated in 2017 is the new-parent concierge. Staffers can receive personalized assistance while planning a family, during parental leave, and upon their return. They can rely on the 24/7 concierge service for as long as they wish, Kasiarz said.

Excerpted from Power Moms: How Executive Mothers Navigate Work and Life by Joann S. Lublin, published Feb. 16 by HarperBusiness.

The Authors: 

Joann S. Lublin is a regular contributor to The Wall Street Journal and author of Power Moms: How Executive Mothers Navigate Work and Life.