IT Dads Push for Paternity Leave

FRAMINGHAM (04/24/2000) - Paternity expert James Levine has been getting a lot of calls lately.

It seems corporate leaders have been paying close attention to the media frenzy over whether British Prime Minister Tony Blair should take paternity leave after the birth of his child. And many are turning to Levine, director of the Fatherhood Project at the Families and Work Institute in New York, for advice about their own time-off policies for new dads.

"I think the Tony Blair thing has prompted a lot of attention," says Levine, co-author of Working Fathers: New Strategies for Balancing Work and Family.

But paid paternity leaves, while more common now than a decade ago, are still relatively rare, he says.

High-tech companies, though, are bucking the trend. Along with competitive salaries and stock options, many IT businesses are offering paid paternity leave.

"The war for talent is so extreme," he says.

The push seems to be coming from young professionals - many without children - who work for Internet start-ups, says human resources specialist Anne M.

Pauker, president of Pauker Consulting Group in Princeton Junction, New Jersey.

Althought IT professionals are working long hours now, they hope to reap the benefits by the time they have children.

"It's a stage-of-life issue," said Pauker. "Many want to know it will be available when they have kids."

Cultural Messages

Before passage of the Family and Medical Leave Act of 1993, which requires companies to offer up to 12 weeks of unpaid leave for new fathers, only progressive businesses offered paternity leave, says Pauker. Since then, more companies have added policies for fathers, but only a tiny fraction of working men actually take advantage of the benefits.

"There are still far fewer dads that take leave than moms," says Pauker. "I mean far, far fewer.

"Very often, men are very self-conscious for taking these leaves," she explains. "I don't think it's in their imagination."

Jeffrey Henning, MIS manager at Internet survey software provider Perseus Development Corp. in Braintree, Mass., was working on a major project when his son, Nicholas, was born four years ago. He couldn't take any time off, he said, "much my wife's chagrin."

But last Christmas, Henning was able to take two weeks' paternity leave after the birth of his child, Caitlin Noel.

At Ventura, California-based outdoor clothing company Patagonia Inc., paternity leave has been a given since 1985. All employees - men or women - with two years' tenure have up to a year to take an eight-week paid child-care leave, said Anita Garaway-Furtaw, director of family services at Patagonia.

Lotus Development Corp., Merrill Lynch & Co. and Microsoft Corp. also have good paternity leave policies, said Levine.

Changing Attitudes

The costs of paternity leave can often pay off in the long run, says Pauker.

"I think most managers would probably like people available to them 24 hours a day, seven days a week," she says.

But family leave can help people feel productive and committed to their work.

Pauker says she thinks IT companies will continue offering paternity leave, even if the job market sours and they aren't competing for workers.

"Once you give, can you take away?" she asked. "You can try. But your truly good people are going to leave."

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