Embracing the archetype of the “working dad”

Last week, I found myself crammed next to a dad on the subway during the morning rush hour. The man, I dubbed him “working dad”, wore a well-pressed suit while hanging on to an aging stroller and his gaze remained fixed on his baby girl, who played peekaboo behind her stroller’s canopy. “Working dad” repeatedly caressed his daughter’s face and tenderly moved the hair from her eyes, presumably as he mentally geared up for day at the office.

The sight struck me not because it’s an anomaly. I realized how commonplace this scenario has become. Anecdotally and statistically, dads are stepping up to the plate in every way imaginable. Even my children’s pediatrician observed recently that over the last 7 to 10 years, a dramatic shift occurred in his waiting room, where dads consistently take up more space.

A lot of attention gets paid to how women navigate the workforce as mothers. While parental leave for fathers now seems routine, the impact child-rearing takes on a father’s careers has yet to be explored to the same degree.  If more fathers self-identified as “working dads,” it would add support to plight of “working moms” and lead to a healthier discussion about workplace and domestic equality.

Moms aside, working dads need a greater dialogue about these issues because our definition of masculinity appears to be evolving more slowly that parenting trends, causing stress for many fathers.  A national survey in the U.S. on the changing nature of the workforce found that men experience more work-life conflict than women. Despite a trend toward more egalitarian family roles, men feel compelled to be the primary breadwinner as well as an involved father.

At the forefront of this evolving dialogue on role of working fathers in society is an army of daddy bloggers, who challenge media’s perception of dad as an incompetent second choice for a mom. “There isn’t a single thing my wife can do, aside from breast feeding, giving birth and carrying a baby that I can’t,” argued Adam Dolgin, the Toronto-based founder of Fodder4Fathers.com, a website that champions the involved father. “I cook, I clean, I bathe, I change diapers, I discipline, and feed and read to my kids, and I love every minute of it,” he insisted.

Challenging the perception of fathers in the media plays an integral role in determining the expectations of fathers in the corporate world.  “There is a stigma that goes along with being a very involved dad,” observed Mr. Dolgin. “Corporate North America is very macho and running off to take care of your kids is seen as a weakness … Sure, companies like hiring married men with kids, they make for more stable workers, but they don’t want them to be overly involved with their children’s care as that’s counterproductive to their needs,” he observed.

Other daddy bloggers in the trenches of this discussion see some positive traction on how the workforce views dads, but lament its slow progress. “Even in 2013, there are many men and women in corporate leadership who believe that men should make the money while women handle the domestic duties,” said Doyin Richards, author of the Daddy Doin Work facebook page, which documents his life as a first-time dad in corporate America.  Mr. Richards said he consistently hears complaints from his “dad friends” that their bosses or colleagues give them grief when they leave work early for a parent-teacher conference. Yet, he feels companies are slowly adapting as more women move into leadership roles.

Already, the trend is taking root in some forward-thinking corporations. Andrew Hamer, a senior consultant at Deloitte launched Deloitte Dads in 2010 because he was “unwilling to believe that it is impossible to have an active co-parenting role and a successful career path in management consulting.” The mission for the group, according to Mr. Hamer, was to foster a more inclusive work environment to help fathers achieve success at home and in the workplace. According to Mr. Hamer, the group raises awareness about flexibility and helps reposition the discussion about how to raise children and advance your career as a parent issue, not just a mom or dad problem.

According to Robert Lanoue, a partner is corporate strategy at Deloitte and a member of Deloitte Dads, other companies would benefit from reaching out to fathers in the workplace as they do mothers. “One trend I have observed is that managing talent is becoming a top priority for many of my clients,” said Mr. Lanoue. “Helping both new mothers and fathers through this transition is a key strategy for them to make sure that they maintain talent,” he added.

Ensuring that working dads don’t feel alienated in the corporate world not only retains top talent, it creates an atmosphere where no one’s career is penalized for having children.