In my work supporting mothers as they navigate their careers and rise as leaders, there are often moments I look around the room at all of the female faces in the workshops, the conferences, the policy discussions and think—we’re talking to ourselves.
If we’re going to make any progress in clearing paths for women to rise into senior roles, we must include our male counterparts in the conversations.
Here are some simple ways working fathers can take an active role toward supporting gender equity in the workplace.
1. Talk about your kids at work
Parenting and the work that goes into it often feels like a taboo subject that must be hidden. When you talk about your children and your experience of being a parent with colleagues, it normalizes the conversation. Read more about this in my post, Here’s Why I Talk About My Kids At Work.
2. Take your leave!
When dads take the parental leave they’re offered, everybody wins. According to NBC News, "Fathers get to bond with their new baby, there’s a decreased risk of mom getting postpartum depression and it shifts the perception that caregiving is a female’s responsibility." Even with these positive outcomes, fathers are often hesitant to take the leave for fear that there will be a potential stigma or other negative impact on their career trajectory. By taking the leave, you not only support your partner at home, but you also show other fathers that it is possible to drive your career forward AND spend time at home with your baby.
3. Align on responsibilities at home
The mental load struggle for working mothers is real. In addition to their careers, women are taking on the lion’s share of parenting and household infrastructure tasks that happen seamlessly often without their partner noticing. I call it, "the third job." Clothes and supplies appear in the house and then disappear when they are no longer needed. Caregivers are managed. School forms are found and submitted. And the list goes on. Working fathers can check in with partners on the distribution of responsibilities to help even the load. And working mothers can release control of tasks and perfectionist approaches to managing said tasks. When household tasks are more evenly distributed, women have greater mental bandwidth, belief in their abilities to rise to senior levels AND be the mothers they want to be.
4. Create cultures of flexibility on your teams
Flexibility means different things to different people. If you are a working father and lead a team, create an open dialogue about what flexibility means to you and to the colleagues you lead. It is possible to both expect excellent work AND respect boundaries around flexibility and prioritization of family life. Both of these things can be true, and the formula will be different for each individual.
5. Mentor and sponsor women
Of course this is not relegated to working parents, but in general, given the number of men vs. women in senior roles—the mentorship and sponsorship of women by men is a critical step on the path toward gender equity. Senior women, already in a bandwidth crunch, often find themselves stretched even thinner when they try to bridge this gap for a multitude of mid-level women. This is an ideal place for male allies to step in, share possibilities and opportunities with their female colleagues—and make the case to broader audiences to support their growth.
While these approaches to allyship appear simple in theory—they absolutely take practice and an openness to stepping into some vulnerable terrain. If you’re used to compartmentalizing career and family life, it may be uncomfortable to share stories about your kids or perhaps lessons you learned while parenting that apply to your leadership style. If you feel there may be some resentment from your partner about an uneven distribution of household responsibilities, it will take courage to bridge those conversations with empathy and an open mind about how things can shift in the future. That said, if you’re reading this, you’re already committed to taking action and I appreciate you being here. Please choose one of these options as a way to continue on your path, then find someone to hold you accountable and share your results with others.