Despite academe’s supposedly progressive tendencies, when it comes to parental policies, mothers seem to get all the love while fathers get left out in the cold. In a recent Balancing Act column, Mary Ann Mason, a professor at the University of California at Berkeley and co-director of the Berkeley Law Center on Health, Economic & Family Security, describes that cultural bias and calls on colleges to extend paid parental leave (and other official and unofficial parental perks) to dads.
Too many colleges still assume that the primary parent is always the mother, Mason writes. “Among the members of the Association of American Universities (the 62 top-ranked research institutions),” for instance, “only a handful offer paid parental leave to fathers after their children are born — the majority offer it to mothers — and none offer graduate-student fathers paid parental leave (a few offer it to mothers).”
It’s no wonder that fathers like this one — a scientist who wrote to Mason after reading her previous column, Do Babies Matter in Science? — feel frustrated and discouraged at times:
“For our daughter’s (a special-needs child) first couple of years, I took her to physical therapy three times a week, losing about seven hours of work time. I was pre-tenure at that point. Everyone assumed that my wife (also a tenure-track scientist) was the primary caregiver, including the male chair and female dean and provost, so she was offered special consideration on scheduling classes and such. She had to tell them that I was the primary caregiver with respect to physical therapy, since our daughter wanted to nurse, not work, when my wife was there. No special scheduling was then offered to me. I think their minds simply couldn’t get around the idea of a man being the primary caregiver.”
Mason points out that while many academic fathers want to be more deeply involved parents, they’re reluctant to ask for accommodations, out of fear that they’ll be stigmatized or viewed as “less committed” by their departments. Of course, mothers worry about being mommy-tracked, and rightly so, but cultural norms encourage them to put family and spouses’ careers first.
If we hope to change outdated cultural norms to the benefit of both academic parents, “family-friendly policies must include fathers as well as mothers,” Mason writes. “Only then will the strongly held gender stereotypes against men as committed caregivers dissipate.”
What parental policies/benefits does your institution have in place for fathers (and mothers)? What else can be done to support both working parents?