In The Balance

Given how dads are taking a much more hands-on role in
raising children than they did even a generation ago, we think that it’s time
to ask successful working fathers the same questions that female executives get
asked all the time. How do you balance work and family? Can you excel in your
career and be the parent you want to be? What has becoming a parent done to
your career?

The ever resourceful Matt Schneider and Lance
Somerfeld, Co-Organizers of the NYC Dads Group, brought
together and moderated a small (but candid) cast of dads to discuss these
issues. Joining the party is Dr. Brad Harrington, the Executive Director of the
Boston College Center for Work and Family, who
spends considerable time researching what working dads think they want out of work
and life. (At the beginning of the conversation, Prof. Harrington presented
some of his recent findings to the panel. Here we present them in the sidebar below.)

The other panelists:

Scott Heiferman: Founder and CEO
of Meetup; father of an 18-month-old girl.

Rob Candelino: VP Marketing at Unilever; father of an 11-month-old

Eric Messinger: Editor of New York Family magazine; father
of 12-year-old girl and 8-year-old boy.

NYC Dads Group: What is your definition of a “good father”
in 2012?

Rob: The principles that made a dad a good dad 20, 40, 60
years ago are still there, provider, protector, etc. What is new are the added expectations:
caregiver, diaper changer, dinner maker, all that.

Eric: Both you and Scott are first-time dads. Do you feel
like you come by these added responsibilities easily, or is it a kind of personal

Rob: It’s a bit of both. There is a pact that I made with
myself, my wife, and my son. I want to be involved. The last 11 months have
been the most sleep deprived and stressful, but also the most joyous and happy.

Scott: For me, it started with an ambiguous, almost ominous sense
of responsibility—as in, Holy shit, I’m responsible for this thing. Then there
is the sense of joy. This little thing needs you…and you do what you need
to do because of love. Also, I entered parenting with a woman who advocates for
women’s rights and she reset my expectations in a good way—about creating a balance
in caregiving.

NYC Dads Group: Rob, personally, are there things that you
do now that you are a dad that affect your work?

Rob: I’m trying to leave early to be home in the evenings. I
could stay all night, but there are times now when I can’t take that 5:30 or 6PM
call—I need to go to feed my son or give my wife a break. I’ve tried to be more
consistent, but it’s a real struggle.

NYC Dads Group: How is it received by your colleagues, when
you say you can’t take a 5:30 call?

Rob: It’s absolutely fine. Unilever is that kind of culture.
I just don’t think it’s common enough. Sheryl Sandberg’s announcement was
uncommon because she’s the COO of Facebook,
but it’s not uncommon for women to say that they have to go home to relieve the
nanny, or feed my son, etc. What you don’t hear is a lot of is guys saying,
overtly, the same thing. I think we are only starting to scratch the surface of
that now. Professionally, everything that Prof. Harrington found [see sidebar below] is consistent with what we’ve found as we researched for the launch
of Dove Men Care. Men reach a point in their mid-30s where they get
“comfortable in their own skin.” The single greatest catalyst is the birth of a

NYC Dads Group: Does the balancing act have a negative impact
on your career aspirations?

Rob: I think the only limiting factor is my own capacity. I
work at good company that values these things, and to be honest, the
opportunity is there if I want it. In my 20s, I moved my girlfriend and now
wife several times, I traveled to over 40 countries, I’ve done a bunch of stuff
that helped propel me and gave me the experience to put me in the position that
I’m in now. I wouldn’t make those family trade-offs today, and whether or not
that holds me back, I don’t know. I have to figure out how much capacity I have,
how much I can contribute, and is that enough for this type of position or to
get promoted. Frankly, I’m still trying to figure out what that right balance
is, but I can tell you that I’ve scaled back the intensity of my job, because of
this thing that has shoehorned it’s way in to my life that is infinitely more
important to me.

NYC Dads Group: Scott, tell us about the leadership you’ve
taken in this area as CEO of Meetup?

Scott: We introduced a one-month paternity leave, which many
dads are taking advantage of. Policies are important, but I just sort of model
it. We’re a small business, 80 people, many dads and moms, so we’re asking the
question: how do you build a sustainable company for the long run that is both
competitive and a great place to work? I’ve been upfront about what I need to
do to be a good parent and be part of a fast-growing company. Maybe that means
I need to take the morning off to go to a music class. Modeling a culture that
is healthy and is sustainable long-term is what I’m paying attention to.

Eric: As the boss of bosses, you don’t have people to answer
to decide whether you are going to a music class. By your actions, are you hoping
to send the message to employees that it’s okay for them to make family a
priority as long as they find other ways to get the work done? Is the message
explicit or implicit?

Scott: I do believe that more will be communicated by
actions in company cultures. Explicit policies (like one-month paid paternity
leave) are important, but I’m transparent about why I’m coming in late, which I
hope will have an impact too.

Eric: Rob, you used the phrase “scratching the surface” when
talking about dads and their participation in raising children. My take on
Prof. Harrington’s research is that, in generally, we’re still not willing to
go nearly as far as women are. Have we plateaued? Or what is this going to look
like 10 years from now?

Rob: What has changed is the definition of success. It was
very clear generations ago that the predominant definition of success as a
father was “provider.” Now, two of my best friends in the world are
stay-at-home dads. How many SAHDs were around when we were kids? How many
massively successful female executives were there? I believe, as society
evolves, in lockstep with this transformation, success means finding a balance
of professional and personal ambition… I’m not alone in this and I think as we
go down the road, in ten years, it will be commonplace for dads to talk more
openly about this.

Eric: I’m wondering if women look at Brad’s research, and think, Yeah, guys get some credit, but they haven’t come far enough.

Prof. Harrington: Things are changing fast and things will
evolve over the next ten years, but here’s why you want to be skeptical about
men taking giant leaps forward. I’ll give you three statistics:

1) Only 1 out of 963 dads scaled back at work, while 56% of their
partners adjusted their schedule

2) The average woman takes 12-14 weeks of maternity leave,
fathers: 16% took no time off, 76% a week or less, 96% 2 weeks or less. Women
are taking a month off for every day that these men are.

3) When there is an at-home parent, 3.4% of the time it’s a
man, the rest of the time, it’s a woman. What we found in our study of SAHDs
that will be released in June, is that an awful lot of them did it for
pragmatic reasons. We now have a situation in which 25-30% of women are
out-earning their husbands. In those situations, men are more likely to adjust
work schedule/be more flexible than women.

Statistics tell us we’ve made progress, but we’re a long way
from equity. [Although] women’s prospects professionally are increasing
dramatically, which will have an impact on how couples make decisions.

Eric: Matt and Lance, you two are on the cutting edge, you
are still the anomaly, the guys who chosen to stay-at-home while their
successful wives go into the office every day and advance their careers. What
are your thoughts on that decision and work-life balance?

Lance: My wife and I made the choice that was best for our
family. Me, being a public school teacher, I was able to take an unpaid leave,
and come back to employment, and my wife is in a fast track career… We
decided that we wanted one of us to be home, and it made sense that it was me.
I went in with a lot of hesitation, I was nervous, but it turns out that it was
the right decision, and the one that was best for our family.

Eric: What’s the hardest part, and best part?

Lance: Hardest part is three-fold, 1) isolation, and that’s
where the NYC Dads Group came in, 2) finding time for myself, and 3) dealing
with those “hot” moments when I’ve had it. What you’ll find, is that these
three are the same as for moms.

Eric: I think it’s interesting that you didn’t include that you’re
not living out any career dreams.

Lance: When I transitioned out of corporate America
into teaching, I had been successful in finance but I was burnt out. I chose
quality of life, a teaching job that intrinsically made me feel great. What’s
great about my job is that I’m a tenured teacher, and I do have aspirations to
get back on track with that as well. And on the flip side, being at home the
rewards are infinite. It’s the small moments that I get to enjoy with my son on
a daily basis that I would never get to enjoy if I were working full-time.

Eric: What about you, Matt?

Matt: Personally, my feelings are similar to Lance’s. But in
terms of the big picture, we started this conversation by saying that we want
to ask working dads the tough questions that working moms have always been
asked. We’re seeing that working moms and dads have many of the same concerns,
and we have an opportunity to join together in to recreate 21st Century
workplaces that fit the lives of 21st Century families. Senior leaders need to
simultaneously create explicit policies that recognize the needs of parents and
personally demonstrate how they are prioritizing work and life. This is good
for families, but it’s also good for business.

Dads By The Numbers: According To Prof. Brad

A 2011 Boston College
qualitative study about men transitioning into fatherhood looked at nearly
1,000 fathers with at least one child under 18 living at home. The dads were
all employees for Fortune 100 companies. Here are some of the findings:

-77% would like to spend more time with their children

-76% said they would like a job with greater responsibility

-58% said they’d like to get into senior management, or enormously
demanding job

-0.1% of dads had reduced hours after birth of child, 30% of
wives home full-time, 26% working part-time (avg: 22 hours per week)

-Many guys use flexibility, but on an informal basis:
flexible hours/work-from-home.

-When asked about balancing childcare responsibilities, 65%
said it should be divided equally between both parents, but only 30% said it is
currently divided equally.