Our Work Culture Is Failing Dads — But There’s a Way To Fix It
It was the summer of 2013, and Josh Levs was really looking forward to the birth of his first daughter. The Atlanta-based CNN journalist was not a subscriber to the old-school notion that fathers are useless during a baby’s first months, and this was his third child, so he knew there would be plenty of ways to pitch in at home.
While preparing for his time off, he noticed that the wording of Time Warner’s family leave policy included 10 weeks’ paid leave for biological mothers, adoptive parents and parents who had used a surrogate, but there seemed to be one key group missing: biological dads. A simple oversight, he figured, and brought it up with human resources, who assured him they’d look into it. He waited, confident of a positive outcome. No answer.
And then things took a dramatic turn: His wife displayed severe pre-eclampsia symptoms, and the baby had to be delivered at 35 weeks.
He needed an answer from HR. Nothing. Weeks later, taking care of his recovering wife, their two boys and his newborn daughter, he got the answer: “We are unable to give you this policy.”
It was terrible news. He looked between his daughter and the email telling him he’d have to head back to work at a time when his family needed him desperately. But he had no choice.
He talked to an attorney, who told him he could sue for gender discrimination.
“I was aware I was picking up the dice and rolling them. It put a question mark over my entire future career,” he recalls. “We did need my salary — most people can’t afford unpaid leave. But when I was graduating from college, I had a very clear idea of the type of person I was going to be, the type of person who wouldn’t let mortgages and bills get in the way of doing what was right. And I thought, ‘This is an opportunity to prove that I [am] still that person.’ ”
A year later, Levs won his case. People in the office, men and women, came up to him with hugs, handshakes and gratitude. Not content to just go back to his desk and keep his head down, Levs, 42, has become a spokesperson for involved dads and a positive crusader for parents’ rights in a country where just 14 percent of companies offer paid leave and one-third of dads have no access to child-care leave at all. The Post talked to him about family leave, the new American dad, and his new book, “All In: How Our Work-First Culture Fails Dads, Families and Businesses — And How We Can Fix It Together.”
Any talk of paid family leave invariably incites cries of outrage from those who claim it would be too expensive for businesses. Tell me why it wouldn’t be.
When these policies are done right, it’s not the business on its own tossing money at the parent. In California and New Jersey, for instance, the paid leave program is funded by a small payroll tax financed through a public program — it’s not a company opening their coffers and funding someone’s full salary. Businesses said it would destroy jobs, but in fact, businesses in both states have reported either a neutral or positive effect on their bottom line. There’s much more political consensus on this than you’d think.
Talk to me about Family Responsibilities Discrimination (FRD) as the new front line for workplace issues.
I want people to know those letters, because I’ve found that a lot of dads in the workplace just don’t know their rights. If you are being discriminated against through policies, and it is done because of a gender-based view of who should be a caregiver, you’re a victim of discrimination. You’re being discriminated against for being a parent.
What advice do you give to dads who want to rethink their work-family lives?
I encourage people to start off optimistically, working with your workplace positively to provide possible solutions [to your schedule]. If you feel like you aren’t getting anywhere, keep an eye on the competitors, and be willing to leave your job and go to another one. If you’re a victim of a gender discrimination situation, don’t be afraid to take legal action. The more of us that stand up to the stigmas, the further we will all get to equality.
How are dads different now?
This a new era for fatherhood. All of us dads are in this together, carving out a new role for what it means to be a father, to be manly — and that means being fully involved. The reason we still have these problems in the workplace is that men who don’t prioritize their kids often get rewarded in the workplace — and then they become the keepers of the culture. They’re in the minority, though. Survey after survey shows that men who are fathers prize time with our families as much more important than work.
How can moms and dads work together in the office as allies?
We are all on one team. Once you make that clear, gender will take a back seat. I encourage moms and dads [in an office] to have a conversation with each other and be open about it to management. No hiding. If your business isn’t listening, you can bump it up a notch — maybe write a letter as a group about what you want. Come up with a few different possible solutions, and be ready to compromise a bit. Once you prove you can get stuff done in less time, that goes a long way with managers.