Dads are trying to achieve a better balance between work and family.
By BLANCA TORRES
The first flower basket the Leibowitzes received after their second daughter was born a few weeks ago didn't come from friends or family -- it came from the father's law firm.
Along with congratulations, Gary Leibowitz's employer, Saul Ewing LLP in Baltimore, also is allowing him three months of paid parental leave.
"There is a life outside this firm, and the firm acknowledges it and supports you spending time with your family," said Leibowitz, 33, who lives in Pikesville, Md.
Leibowitz, whose wife, Dena, gave birth to Dillan on March 24, has not decided how long his leave will last -- it will depend on his caseload. He took three weeks off when the couple's first daughter, Alexis, was born two years ago.
In a break with the past, Leibowitz and other dads born after the baby boom are trying to achieve a better balance between the demands of the workplace and raising a family. It's a balance women have been trying to strike for decades.
But even with more families juggling two careers, the trend of men taking leave or reducing hours has been slow to surge, experts said, since most employers do not offer paid paternity leave. And some men still fear compromising their careers by taking the time, or simply can't afford to.
"Culture still doesn't support the notion that fathers need to be as engaged as women in their kids' lives," said Roland Warren, president of National Fatherhood Initiative, based in Gaithersburg, Md. "Businesses have a lot of support systems primarily for mom. ... When men try to take advantage of these things, although you can do it, there is still a notion that men shouldn't."
But career and human-resource experts said companies are taking notice that more men want such benefits. The Family and Medical Leave Act of 1993 provides workers up to 12 weeks of unpaid leave. About 15 percent of companies offer paid paternity or parental leave for an average of 25 days, according to the 2004 Benefits Survey of the Society of Human Resource Management, a national organization based in Virginia. Although up from 7 percent four years earlier, that percentage has remained virtually unchanged since 2001.
"The dramatic change is that men are doing this at all," said Joan C. Williams, professor of law, director of work/life law at American University Washington College of Law and author of "Unbending Gender: Why Family and Work Conflict and What to Do About It."
The shift, however small, is a result of a new mentality in the workplace, she said.
"Gen X and Gen Y men are demanding to have the ability to play a larger role in family life than their fathers did," Williams said. "They face expectations at home that they will provide family support for their wives of a sort that other men don't face and their fathers didn't face."
Focus on family
Leibowitz said he grew up in a time when fathers focused more on careers than family and working mothers were still relatively rare. That has changed among men his age.
"It's a balancing act," he said. "There are 24 hours in a day; you have to make a concerted effort to make time for your family. They are more important than your career, and they should not take a second seat."
A study published in the September 2003 issue of the research journal Sex Roles states that employees are evaluated on behaviors beyond their technical or required job duties. The study says the perceptions of those actions often are based on stereotypes.
Men are expected to be "independent, assertive, skilled in business and competitive" and "highly committed to their work." Therefore, the study concludes, men who take time to care for family are seen as lacking loyalty to their employer. Women who take family leave, on the other hand, often are viewed as "altruistic."
"Within our society, we have norms for who is supposed to care for families," said Julie Holliday Wayne, the study's author.
Confronting stereotypes is one of the challenges working fathers face, Warren said. Another issue is that some men feel uncomfortable having discussions with their employers about family-and-work balance.
Jan Jorgensen, a spokeswoman for the Society of Human Resource Management, said younger workers have different priorities, and employers will have to adjust as more baby boomers retire.
Women struggled for decades to instill the concept of "family-friendly" benefits in workplaces, but employers need to realize the idea applies to both genders, said Rebecca Shambaugh, president and chief executive of Shambaugh Leadership Group, based in McLean, Va.
"The workplace is becoming much more integrated and homogenized," she said. "There is no more putting people into a box and saying, 'This is your role."'
For many employers, family benefits such as paternity or maternity leave fit into the same category as flex-time, job-sharing and telecommuting.
T. Rowe Price Associates, for example, offers a variety of family benefits, including six paid family illness days and a $3,000 adoption benefit, but no specific paid paternity leave.
Fathers at the Baltimore-based mutual fund company often use the family days or vacation time when a new baby arrives.
"We are currently taking a look at paternity-leave policies in the marketplace to see what other employers are offering," said Randall Singer, the company's vice president of corporate benefits. "We are constantly looking at our benefits package to ensure that it's competitive and meeting the needs of our associates."
Accounting giant Ernst & amp; Young, with 23,000 employees, provides two weeks of paid parental leave.
Ciara Sullivan, the company's associate director of public relations, said about 49 percent of the more than 1,200 employees who used parental leave last year were men. Approximately 2,300, or about 10 percent of all employees, use flexible work schedules. Although just 17 percent of those workers are men, that number has increased over the years.
One worker, Tom Sand, senior manager in the audit practice at the firm, is adopting a baby girl from Russia. He said it was reassuring to know his firm was supportive not only with paid time off, but also a $5,000 reimbursement for expenses.
"When you take time off, [fellow employees] rally together and handle things while you're away," Sand said.
Lucien Walsh, a salesman for Wines Limited, a wine distributor based in Baltimore, could not take paid paternity leave, but he was able to arrange to spend two weeks at home after his daughter was born in September.
He would have taken a month off if his family could have afforded it, but most of his income comes from commissions.
Walsh said he has a variable schedule that allows him to tend to family duties.
Having a baby, he said, requires a "strange integration of your professional life and personal life."
"I love my baby, and I want to be an active part in her life," Walsh said. "I don't want to be the absentee father who is so devoted to work that he misses her childhood."