New dads can feel uncomfortable when asking to take parental leave, but strong company culture helped these three fathers take the plunge.
A gentle push from above
When it was first suggested to expecting dad Richard Taylor that he should take advantage of his company’s parental leave policy, he was quickly met with nervousness and uncertainty.
Having built a successful career at consultancy firm Ernst and Young, he questioned if he would miss out on opportunities, if colleagues would look at him differently, and if he would struggle to re-establish himself in the business.
While taking a few weeks’ leave at the time of a child’s birth is now commonplace for Aussie dads, taking an extended break to be the primary carer remains the exception as men ask themselves these same questions.
For Taylor, it’s an opportunity that might have passed him by were it not for his boss, who had made it her mission to encourage one of her male staff to take the extended leave available to new dads at EY.
“The second I announced that my wife was pregnant, she said ‘Great, you’re going to do this’,” Taylor said.
“It definitely wasn’t on my agenda, and my initial reaction was nervousness. I was a little bit scared and I had some questions about what it would mean, mainly towards my career.
“Those questions jump into your mind so to be honest I started by saying, ‘I’ll think about it’ and just went back to doing my job.”
EY, which ranks No.8 in this year’s Best 20 Australian Workplaces for New Dads, offers its staff 14 weeks primary carer’s leave at full pay, making this available to take any time in the first two years of their child’s life.
After the birth of Taylor’s daughter, Millicent, conversations about taking primary carer’s leave resurfaced and senior stakeholder’s in the firm convinced Taylor it was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity he had to take.
Before he knew it, ‘Milli’ was eight months old and the two of them were sitting in music classes and attending reading time at the local library while Taylor’s wife was able to get back to running her own business full-time.
“I took the leave when our daughter was just starting to think about crawling, she was interacting a lot more, and she could hold her head up, so it was at a point where dad had a huge role to play,” Taylor said.
“It’s really good fun and I definitely have a better relationship with my daughter now than I would have done.
“But then there’s the other side of the story, which is that it is absolutely not an easy ride.
“There might be misconceptions that it is weak, or it’s time out of the office being all relaxed and having a good time.
“There are absolutely elements of that, because you’re looking after a little one and going to playgroups, and you’re doing things that aren’t as intellectually stressful as work can be.
“But it can be lonely, and it can be seriously challenging if you’ve got a sick child.”
Taylor says he now feels more competent as a dad and the time away from work gave him the opportunity to know his daughter better, with Millicent now searching Dad out as much as Mum if she’s looking for comfort.
His lesson for new dads thinking of taking primary carer’s leave is to unplug from work 100 per cent.
The part-time option
While a three-month block of paid parental leave is a great opportunity for some families, spreading the entitlement across a longer period works better for others.
IT architect Kris Hew and his wife Saeka welcomed their first son, Tyson, in July last year and started discussing the best way to utilise Kris’s primary carer entitlements.
Hew had worked for Mirvac, which ranks No.2 in the Best 20 Australian Workplaces for New Dads, since 2008 and submitted a request to take four weeks’ of his 20-week entitlement in a block, spreading the rest over a six-month period and working three days a week.
The arrangement started in May this year, when Tyson was 10 months old, and will end in late November this year with Hew staying on full pay throughout.
Hew said there had been a big difference in the time he took off as a secondary carer immediately after his son’s birth and the time he was now spending with him as a primary carer.
“Those first two weeks when our son was born I was basically just helping my wife, but then with the [primary carer’s leave] I have taken I’ve really bonded with him,” he said.
“I know his little mannerisms and I understand his cries and what he’s asking for.
“Before that, coming home from work was the only time I got to see him and we didn’t really bond as much. He was attached to mum and would always crawl to mum.
“He still goes to mum a little bit more, but he comes to dad as well and that’s been really, really nice.
“It’s like he’s figured out who I am and that I’m part of his life.”
Hew said Mirvac’s policy had allowed him to experience “the fun side of parenting”, rather than being restricted to the evening routine on weeknights of bathing, feeding and comforting his son to sleep.
It had also helped his partner, who missed the adult interaction of the workplace.
“It’s been really good for her. She misses him a lot, but she wanted to pick up work again, so me picking up the parental leave is the least I could do to help her out,” Hew said.
“One of the things I had hoped to get out of this parental leave was the bonding and getting to know our son, and I think I have.
“I think I’ve achieved a lot of that and I’m glad Mirvac provides this policy and allows me to do it.”
“It’s almost frowned upon if you don’t take it”
One of the key drivers for Jack Bell taking primary carer’s leave from PwC was his wife Maija’s work situation.
Having recently started a new job, Maija was unable to take greater than six months’ leave, meaning the couple’s son Charlie would be in day care well before they were comfortable if Bell couldn’t access his own paid leave.
It came as a blessing then that the senior manager could take advantage of PwC’s 18 weeks’ leave on full pay, stepping in as the primary carer once his wife returned to work.
The scenario is a perfect illustration of how making primary carer’s leave available to new dads during the first 12 months of a child’s life helps women get back into the workforce quicker.
Employees at PwC, like Bell, are well aware of this dynamic.
“If dads don’t take it, it does inadvertently add pressure onto mums and they have to be the ones to put their careers on hold,” Bell said.
“It’s almost frowned upon now if you don’t take the leave, because it’s about the bigger picture and dads taking it is actually a massive support to mums.
“That’s the biggest thing I’m starting to see a shift in, instead of people saying, ‘What does a stay-at-home dad do’, it’s more of an expectation now that you are part of a family too and the more support you can provide the better your relationship is going to be with your wife and the better your experience is going to be with a child.”
PwC ranks No.5 in the Best 20 Australian Workplaces for New Dads, with Bell noting the way staff are increasingly encouraged to take advantage of the company’s generous policies.
The firm has exceptional flexibility policies and, with Charlie now 20 months old, Bell said he was able to stay heavily involved in his son’s life while working full-time.
“I do all the drop offs, which means I don’t get into work until nine, just after nine, on those days, and my wife does all the pick-ups,” Bell said.
“I’ve also got the flexibility where, if she needs, I can come home early and do I and jump online a little bit later.
“So it’s that focus on outcomes, not bums on seats and hours at your workplace. It’s up to you to manage your work.”
Bell said he had become a strong advocate for dads taking primary carer’s leave, with the experience a life-changing one for him.
“That early bonding time helps you understand what works, what doesn’t, just how to look after a kid,” he said.
“I learnt the most on the days when my wife was at work, because if we wanted to go on an outing I’ve got to pack the bag and I’ve got to remember the little bags to put the dirty nappies in.
“I strongly encourage it, just because I’ve experienced how much it meant first hand.
“It was amazing, just getting to know your child.”