Where's the Love for Working Fathers?

by Derek Loosvelt | June 12, 2013

Often forgotten in the conversation about the difficulty of raising children while cultivating a career is the other half of the equation: working fathers. 

Of course, historically, since working fathers have been the primary breadwinners of American families and mothers the primary caregivers, there hasn’t been much sympathy for fathers when it comes to helping them achieve a better balance between their work and home lives. However, given that women are now increasingly becoming the primary breadwinners and men are taking a more active role in raising children, there’s been a growing emphasis in corporate America to provide better benefits for fathers as well as for mothers. 

And so to find out just how much better, this past April Vault surveyed hundreds of men working in various industries (more than 80 percent of those surveyed were married or partnered men between the ages of 25 and 44). And what we found is that, on average, men are somewhat satisfied, though not terribly overjoyed, with their firms’ policies to accommodate working fathers. We also found that there’s a fair amount of disparity among industries in the quality and quantity of these policies.

What follows are more of our survey's findings.

Accounting is rated the most accommodating

Overall, as you’ll see in the chart below, survey respondents who work in accounting rate their firms highest when it comes to how accommodating they are for working fathers (survey respondents were asked to rate their firms on a scale of 1 to 10, with 1 being not accommodating at all and 10 being extremely accommodating). This is perhaps not all that surprising since accounting firms and, in particular, the Big 4 accounting firms (PwC, Ernst & Young, Deloitte, and KPMG), are regularly singled out by publications such as Working Mother magazine for their generous benefits offered to working mothers. And since it's often believed that the way to help working mothers succeed in the workplace is to provide ways for their spouses to take on more of the caregiving responsibilities at home, it follows that these firms would also be rather accommodating to fathers. In any case, consulting was the second most accommodating industry, followed by law, finance/banking, technology, and manufacturing, respectively.

4_overall Accomodation Rating

Accountants tell us that their firms, in addition to providing fathers with generous paid and unpaid paternity leave, offer a lot of flexibility when it comes to where and when work can be done. Which, of course, means that “you may be working nights and weekends,” as one accountant says. And although most accountants are satisfied with their firms’ policies, a few note, “It’s unofficially frowned upon to take advantage of paternity leave benefits.”

Consultants, meanwhile, often report receiving even more generous paid and unpaid paternity leaves. However, working hours in the industry can be very long, and frequent overnight travel to client sites is typically required to get the job done. Which means good policies might not outweigh the workload. Still, as one consultant notes, “There’s a definite focus on finding a balance between meeting client and family needs. There are times when client needs are paramount—there’s just no way around it in consulting. However, working outside the normal office hours when necessary is encouraged. As long as client needs are being met, there’s complete flexibility to take care of your family’s needs.”

Law firms, which also provide extremely generous paternity leave policies for employees, can be “very accommodating to its employees with children,” insiders tell us. “For example,” explains one lawyer, “I joined my firm when our family was in the middle of an international adoption. We had to be out of the country for a month. I worked hard before and after the trip to make up my hours, but everyone at the firm was incredibly supportive of the adoption and understanding of my time away. They made provisions to cover my cases and offered paid time off for both trips.”

However, it’s also true that if you work in Big Law you work, and work, and work. And once your leave is completed, it's often back to business as usual. “As far as big law firms go,” says another lawyer, “I think my firm is better than most at providing a family-friendly environment. But I would hesitate to recommend a big law firm to someone starting a family.” According to another lawyer with kids, “My firm makes no accomodations. It views working parents as a problem because they want to spend time with their families.”

In finance/banking, insiders tell us that how accommodating a firm is varies by department or business group. “Depending on the department,” says one banker, “the firm I work for could be a good place for fathers, as it can be pretty laid-back in this regard. But this is only true in certain departments.” 

Manufacturing and technology are even less accommodating, on average. Here’s one tech professional discussing his firm’s policies: “The firm's attitude is that children are my decision and burden to bear and should not affect the office.” And here’s another tech insider on what it’s like to work at his firm as a father: “The median age is very young, and most employees are unmarried and don’t have children. They micromanage and maintain strict guidelines around time spent outside the office.” 

Accounting has best paternity leave; 31% of firms in all industries offer at least four weeks paid leave

Accounting also ranks on top when it comes to satisfaction with paternity leave policies (see the chart below), with law coming in second and consulting coming in third. Finance/banking, technology, and manufacturing all rate relatively much lower.

1_paternity Leave Rating

Surprisingly, many firms offer lengthy paid paternity leaves. Note in the charts below that more than 30 percent of respondents tell us that their firms offer more than four weeks of paid paternity leave, and 55 percent say their firms offer more than four weeks of unpaid leave.

2_paid Paternity Leave

3_unpaid Paternity Leave

Based on what survey respondents tell us, certain law, consulting, and accounting firms offer their male employees the longest leaves. However, it’s important to note that even among these industries, leave policies vary tremendously from firm to firm.

One consultant's firm offers “six weeks paid leave for dads as well as the option of taking up to two months off, unpaid, at any point, which could be used for additional paternity leave.” Meanwhile, a consultant at another firm says, “We only give lip service to paternity. I had to work during both of my children's births. For one, I got off of a conference call, went to the delivery room, came out and had to rejoin a call. Even my boss, who was a mother with young kids, expected me back at work after two days off.”

A finance professional says, at his firm, “Fathers now get two weeks of paternity leave.” He adds that his manager is “very accommodating,” and “for a financial institution, ours is a flexible shop.” 

Finance/banking is best for flexibility; consulting best in health care

As many working mothers and fathers know, flex-time and health insurance are perhaps even greater concerns than leave policies, since both can likely cover you for a lot longer than any leave policies can. 

To that end, you’ll see in the charts below that although there’s less disparity among industries in flex-time arrangements and health insurance versus paternity leave policies, there are a few interesting scores to note: (1) Finance/banking ranks very well in flexibility, with law ranking behind all but technology; (2) Technology firms lag behind all other industries in flex-time and all but manufacturing in health insurance; and (3) In health insurance, only consulting firms receive higher than an 8 rating, suggesting that professionals are at best fairly satisfied with their insurance coverages but are by no means extremely happy with them.

6_flex Time Fathers 

7_health Insurance Fathers

Here's one less than satisified father who works in accounting speaking about his firm’s benefits, including flex-time and health care: “My employer has very flexible work hours, and as long as you get your work done, you have the time to take off for family time. My only issue is with the firms health care insurance. If I were to get health care through my firm for my wife, my son, and I, it would take such a significant chunk out of my salary—about 30 to 35 percent—that I don’t think I’d be able to put bread on the table.” 

And according to another disgruntled father, who works in technology, “If my children need medical care, I give the company little to no information; job security is safer that way. Any use of the medical coverage is frowned upon. Some of us who are salaried are expected to work 12 to 16 hours a day, regardless of any home needs.”

This father adds that "the attitude is essentially the same as in the Marine Corps: ‘If we wanted you to have a spouse and children, they would’ve been issued to you in Basic Training.’”

Read More:
Vault's Working Parent Survey: Do Women Even Want It All?
At Big 4, Men More Satisfied Than Women
What Are Fathers For? (NYT)

Follow me on Twitter: @vaultfinance.

Filed Under: Finance | Salary & Benefits | Workplace Issues


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