Mark Zuckerberg made a couple of impressive announcements recently. One is that he is turning over 99% of his Facebook shares, worth approximately $45 billion, to an LLC for charitable causes (and potentially for-profit investments).
This jaw-dropping amount of money drowned out another Zuckerberg story: that he will take two months of paternity leave to be with his newborn daughter.
To me, the second story should be getting the most attention because it could have a meaningful impact on gender inequality in the workplace.
While many factors affect workplace inequity, child birth and child and family care are especially significant.
Social expectations put child and family care burdens disproportionatly on women. The paper “Explaining The Gender Wage Gap” cites Bureau of Labor statistics that show:
“Employed mothers with a child under age 6 spend about 47 more minutes per day caring for and helping household members, compared to employed fathers.”
Over the span of a career, those minutes add up. If women are the ones expected to stay home when a child is sick, or step away from a task or meeting for carpooling or school activities, it creates the impression of an employee who isn’t fully committed.
For instance, a Stanford researcher conducted a study that found “employers rate fathers as the most desirable employees, followed by childless women, childless men and finally mothers.”
Other research demonstrates that becoming a father can boost a man’s salary by an average of 6 percent, while becoming a mother decreases a woman’s salary 4 percent.
In other words, employers perceive fathers as stable and reliable, while mothers are susceptible to distractions from home and thus less appealing as an employee.
What does this have to do with Zuckerberg?
In fields such as technology, investment banking, and law, grueling work hours are regarded a status marker and a kind of mental machismo. If you aren’t putting in 60-hour weeks, your commitment, your place in the hierarchy, and even your self-worth may be called into question.
And while many tech companies offer generous family leave packages (Facebook gives employees 4 months paid leave after the birth of a child), men are less likely to take full advantage of these policies.
For instance, Boston College surveyed more than 1,000 fathers across a variety of industries. Approximately 40% of fathers surveyed took just two weeks of paternity leave, and 25% took only one week.
The survey also noted “There are strong correlations between the supportiveness of the workplace culture and immediate manager, and the number of weeks that fathers took off.”
To have the CEO of one of the biggest global tech brands step out for two months sends powerful cultural signals.
One is that a father’s role in child and family care is valuable and should be supported; the fact is, if men want to support workplace equity, they need to take on their fair share of child and family duties, and support coworkers who do the same.
Another is that just because a man or woman needs time or flexibility for family care doesn’t mean they can’t be productive and dedicated employees.
This post originally appeared in Human Infrastructure Magazine, a Packet Pushers newsletter on life in IT. You can get a free subscription to Human Infrastructure by signing up here or using the form below.