By Melissa J. Anderson

In her new book, Half A Wife: The Working Family’s Guide To Getting A Life Back, Gaby Hinsliff explains that the challenges that mothers and fathers face in the workplace, as they pertain to work/life balance, aren’t the same. Much of the work/life discussion revolves around time – having the time to build a career one is proud of, as well as manage family responsibilities in a way one is also proud of.

But there’s more to it than that. When it comes to compromise in this area, men and women are judged differently in the workplace, and likely perceive their own sacrifices differently. She writes:

“A successful woman who compromises her career for the children will often be praised for doing so, because she is conforming to a sentimental idea of what ‘good’ women do. A man doing the same, however, is challenging the idea of what it means to be a man: competitive, ambitious and a successful provider. The idea that mothers are ‘necessary’ to children but fathers more dispensable is ingrained in most men from childhood, not least by their own fathers.”

But a recent study shows that this attitude is changing amongst fathers – and there is a desire for corporations to change as well. The Boston College Center for Work and Family’s survey of almost 1,000 “white collar” fathers at large corporations revealed that while men considered themselves career driven, the majority wished they could spend more time at home.

Brad Harrington, Executive Director of BC’s Center for Work & Family, said “We see that fathers, too, need a family-supportive work environment when it comes to aligning work and family, and this has tangible benefits for their jobs and careers, and in turn for their organizations.”

Making Sacrifices

The study, “The New Dad: Caring, Committed, and Conflicted,” pointed out that today young men and women “do not differ in terms of their desire for jobs with greater responsibility.” This means that today’s young women are not as likely as they were previously to make career sacrifices as they were in previous generations.

Young men similarly have a changing view of what it means to be a “good father.” The “provider” definition of a father which previous generations may have been satisfied with no longer holds. The survey revealed that fathers strongly want to be more significantly included in caretaking duties.

The report says, “Nonetheless, it appears to us to be more a period of transition than one of demise or maintaining the status quo. As men transition from a narrow definition of fatherhood to one that embraces career and family, we feel that the term ‘beginning’ may be a more fitting characterization than ‘end.’”

The report also pointed out that “On average, fathers over the age of 40 were slightly more likely to see their responsibilities as fathers in a traditional breadwinning sense than those under the age of 40.”

In fact, the study revealed a large gap in the amount of care fathers say they want to provide, and the amount they actually do provide.

“As can be seen, 65% of the fathers believe that both partners SHOULD provide equal amounts of care while 30% feel that their spouse should provide more care. However, when asked to report on how caregiving IS divided, only 30% of fathers reported that caregiving is divided equally, while 64% reported that their spouse provides more care. This highlights a large and noteworthy gap between aspirations and reality for the majority of the fathers in this study.”

Corporate Response

Additionally, a full 75% of fathers said they had only been able to take off one week or less for paternity leave (and 16% said they weren’t able to take off at all). Similarly, a full 75% of fathers said they wished they could have taken off longer.

The study also revealed that while fathers were happy with their flex work options, many took advantage of it on an informal basis. For example, while 40% of fathers working a compressed workweek did so informally, a full 80% of took advantage of informal flex work opportunities.

This could point to growing dissatisfaction with corporate paternity culture.

While leave and flexible working arrangements are on the books, it’s not considered appropriate to take advantage of them to their fullest extent, if at all. But with the increasing desire that men have shown to participate more in caretaking, that cultural attitude will have to change – particularly for the firms that want to attract and retain the best talent.