Posts Tagged “fathers”

Where are Men in the Work/Life Conversation? They’re Starting to Arrive

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(This post originally appeared in

A couple of months ago, Selena Rezvani, author of The Next Generation Women Leaders, wrote an article in The Washington Post entitled “Where are the Men in the Work/Life Conversation?” I’ve grappled with this question for more than 15 years as I helped companies rethink inflexible ways of working so that everyone (not just women) could optimize his or her work+life fit.

But, I decided it would be more interesting to ask a man to share his insights.

Immediately, I thought of Dan Mulhern, whose moving and powerful letter to his 13 year old, Jack, “How to Be a Real Man” was published in last week’s Newsweek. It’s a must-read for anyone who’s raising the next generation of men.

Professionally, Mulhern writes, speaks, coaches and consults to help people” lead with their best self.” He’s authored two books on leadership and writes a weekly e-column called “Reading for Leading.” (sign up at Personally, Dan shifted from a 50-50 sharing arrangement to the lead parent role in 1998 when his wife Jennifer Granholm was elected Michigan’s first female attorney general and subsequently served two terms as governor. Their daughters were 8 and 7 years old, and son Jack was not quite a year old at the time of Jennifer’s first election.

Drawing upon his professional and personal experience, here’s what Dan Mulhern had to say about men and the work+life conversation.

Cali Yost: Welcome Dan. So how do you answer the question, “Where are the men in the work/life conversation?

Dan Mulhern: I think they are increasingly in the conversation. We are at a tipping point with a rash of articles about men, work and their lives. I think there’s a multi-level conversation about what is happening to men more broadly.

For a strong contingent of these men this is a really great opportunity especially for young fathers like Tom Matlack and The Good Men Project. I feel part of that group and it’s a huge celebration. For another group of people, it’s more of a reaction to a world that’s changed. When my wife burst into her new role (Jennifer Granholm, former governor of Michigan), in a sense I had to change for her welfare, our family’s welfare.

Men have not been socialized to have these conversations about our work and other parts of our lives. These men who have chosen it are saying “Let’s talk about it. It’s cool.” But the other men are being swept along, less by choice.

Cali Yost: You’ve recently participated in a study of new fathers with the Boston College Center for Work and Family. What does that research tell us? What are the implications for men?

The Boston College Center for Work and Family New Dad Study confirmed two old findings and unearthed one new finding:

  1. There is a lingering pro-male bias, in the sense that people treated men as more mature and seasoned when they had children versus women who felt professionally penalized. Men felt propelled into adulthood, whereas, for women this new phase brought a lot of anxiety about their role and work commitment, and
  2. The new fathers really didn’t think about being the main caretaker. Out of the 32 study participants, only two new fathers gave serious thought to taking on primary role.

So Gen Y fathers are not that different from those two perspectives. But what was really clear and new with this generation is that men really want to be involved and part of the conversation.

Cali Yost: The National Study of the Changing Workforce reported that men had higher levels of work+life stress than women. I have found that to hold true in my work with companies. Yet, work+life is still entrenched as a “women’s issue.” What do you think will finally change this?

Dan Mulhern: There’s a triangle of influence that’s important if we want to make that change and involve men in companies. First, a male senior leader needs to speak openly and encourage the conversation. Second, a man has to be brave enough to say something about what he needs. And then, third, the managerial conversation with that employee is critical. Emphasis on the conversation including men up and down all levels of the organization is key.

I also think men need to be willing to talk about the issue honestly and openly. I have a friend who used to ask me to play golf and I had to say “no” because of taking care of kids. He would respond, “Your priorities are all right.”

His interest in my choices made a difference, because it’s not the same when women would tell me “You’re so great for taking care of your kids.” That seemed somewhat matronizing (like patronizing). I equate it to what it must feel like if you are a beautiful woman who completes an engineering project and a bunch of guys say, ‘You’re so smart.” Well, what did you think of me before?

Those conversations for me are important. Jennifer and I talked for years that this time would be “my time” after her term as governor ended. But instead I’ve found that I’ve really exalted in my family. I appreciate reading about other men who are also excited about their families on the Good Men Project. You don’t feel like the only one. What’s going to change the reality is men talking.

Cali Yost: What are the key changes related to men and work+life you’re trying to drive with your work?

Dan Mulhern:

  1. Help to make talk about what’s going on in work and life amongst men normal and safe. There’s never been a legal prohibition that’s kept men from being a primary parent. It was all internal. You didn’t show feelings, emotions unless they were manly feelings. Talk is the most liberating thing.
  2. In terms of who does what in parenting, we need to move away from gender and biology as the determinant toward competency and passion. In other words, each partner does what they like and are good at regardless of gender or biology.

The first two points are inter-related because if it’s not okay amongst men to talk about how you like to be with your kids then we won’t be able to accomplish the second goal.

I think that so many artificial barriers have already come down or will come down. We created a divide between life and work over the last 100 years. Farmers didn’t have a divide. There should be a real questioning in the work life movement of work life boundaries.

Sons and daughters benefit from seeing both parents working. The conversations with our son, Jack, are very different and that will create the change.

Cali Yost: Thank you, Dan. I knew you’d have wise insights into the question “where are men in the work/life conversation? The answer I hear is that they’re starting to arrive. And that’s good for all of us!

One Dad Says “Enough!”–RebelDad’s Pampers Boycott

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Two realizations prompted me to start blogging more than four years ago:

  1. You can develop and implement a flexibility strategy in a company and help someone manage their work+life fit, but that change won’t “stick” unless it is reinforced by the work+life mindset and language the broader culture.  Currently, it is not; and
  2. The extreme or outdated work+life fit stereotypes that the mainstream media consistently reinforced were keeping individuals, organizations and public policy stuck in the past.  Other voices outside of the advertiser/media market were going to have to make that change happen.

Dad as “bumbling, disinterested care giver” stereotype

A perfect example of an outdated stereotype reinforced in the culture by the media and advertisers is the “mom as the primary caregiver, and dad, if he is present at all, as a bumbling incompetent who mom needs to rescue.”  For years, this picture never matched the reality I’d seen in my work and in my personal life:

  • At Work: Even though they’d be invited as an afterthought, men are often at least a third if not half of the participants in my presentations.  And often the organizers of the events are “surprised so many men turned up.”  I’m not.  Men, many of whom are fathers, have told me for years that they are just as interested in learning how to flexibly manage their work+life fit as women.
  • In Life: My husband and most his peers who are fathers have always been incredibly involved and competent caregivers from day one.  In fact, when I go to the grocery store on Sunday many of my fellow shoppers are men who are clearly buying food for their families and often have their children with them while they are doing it.  Mom is nowhere around.

Why does it matter?  We may see men in real life participating as involved, capable fathers who need to flexibly manage their work and life as much as mothers, but then we turn on the television, go to a website, pick up a magazine.  The images presented sell us collectively a very different reality that ultimately hurts men and women.

Rebel Dad’s Pampers Boycott–One man’s mission to fight the “Dad as bumbling, disinterested care giver” stereotype

Unfortunately, the market is set up to reinforce this stereotype.  Media outlets want advertisers dollars.  And, advertisers have decided that playing up the mom as the primary, competent caregiver who makes all of the decisions is the best way to move merchandise.  So, it’s going to take individuals standing up and saying, “Enough” before the outdated stereotypes are replaced.  That’s exactly what one father, Brian Reid (aka is doing.

I first ran across Rebel Dad when he blogged for the  Through his writing, I’ve been introduced to a group of men online whose beliefs and actions reflect what I actually see everyday–smart, involved, caring, competent fathers.  So, I was thrilled when Brian and his community of dads decided to take on Pampers for its “mom-centric” advertising campaign.  It’s one shot fired in a campaign that will hopefully build even more momentum.  Here’s his story.  Go Rebel Dad!

CY: As a Dad, what made you so frustrated that you said “enough” and started the Pampers boycott?

RD: Every year, on Mother’s Day, Pampers sends me an e-mail telling me how important “moms like you” are. And every year, I post on how tragic it is that the world’s biggest maker of diapers instantly assumes that everyone on their e-mail coupon list is a woman. This year, with tongue firmly in cheek (I’m out of the diaper stage forever now), I decided I’d try to protest a little more officially.

CY: What do you hope this boycott achieves with regard to Pampers specifically, and more broadly with the media’s recognition that dads are caregivers?

RD:  I am realistic. I don’t expect or even want Pampers to institute some sort of marketing plan that calls for exactly half of all ads to be targeted at men. All I want is an acknowledgment, somehow, somewhere — in an ad, in an e-mail, in a campaign — that dads play a central role in raising kids, up to an including changing diapers. This isn’t rocket science: Huggies is doing it. But if you look across everything that Pampers does, it’s hard to find so much as an image of an engaged dad.

CY: Why is this important to Dads, moms, kids and the broader culture?

RD: There is no meaningful biologic reason why — with the exception of breastfeeding — dads can’t play an equal (or greater!) role in raising kids. The imbalance in gender roles, then, is largely a social phenomenon. And though a single mom-focused commercial doesn’t automatically make dads into indifferent fathers, the cumulative impact of the mom-as-caregiver image in medium after medium after medium has an impact after a while. There are a good percentage of working dads that have never even thought about a role reversal, in part, because they’ve assumed that the world don’t work that way. And — if all you did was watch TV — you’d be hard-pressed to argue.

CY: Although you are putting your own blogging about the boycott on hold for awhile, the boycott itself continues.  The response from other dads/parents has been positive.  What is the message you are getting from fathers responding to the boycott?

The feedback has been great. Everyone has been supportive. But what’s really heartening is the number of people, who — like me — pay attention to the companies that show dads as involved parents. I mentioned Huggies earlier, and they came on my radar screen in no small part because of a bunch of fathers who suggested that I look at their marketing, which is gender-neutral in its language and pretty dad-friendly in its approach.

CY: How long will the boycott continue, and do you plan to expand it beyond Pampers?

At this point, I have other issues on which to focus my attention, and I am under no illusion that I will bring Proctor and Gamble to its knees. I’ll keep posting — and keep mentioning the boycott — every time I see something mom-centric from Pampers, and I look forward to calling off the dogs as soon as I see some dads in their marketing materials.

CY: I look forward to that day too.  In the mean time, keep going.  The your voice and the voices of other fathers in your community are critical if we are to change the broader cultural misperceptions about care giving that keep us all stuck.  Thanks, Brian!

What do you think of Rebel Dad’s Pampers boycott?  What else can we do to make the we the broader culture talks about and thinks about work and life match the reality most of us live in?

Fast Company: Success: Advancement and Caregiving–Challenge Work+Life Fit Roadblocks (More Day 2)

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On Day 2 of the “Work+Life Fit in 5 Days” series of how-to basics, we’re challenging work+life fit roadblocks.   It’s important to know how to see, avoid and challenge the roadblocks related to success, fear, resistance and in-the-box-thinking before you begin the process of creating your work+life fit plan.

We started on the Work+Life Fit blog by defining and challenging the Success Roadblocks related to money and prestige that can trip you up unless you flexibly redefine success to match the fit you want to pursue.

Now, let’s identify and challenge the Success Roadblocks related to advancement and caregiving before they derail you.

Advancement—Redefining Success

Excerpt from Work+Life Finding the Fit That’s Right for You

“Advancement=Success.  Advancement is one of the cornerstones of our personal and cultural definition of success. As part of the FWI/Whirlpool New Providers Study, 1,502 women were asked “What makes you feel successful at work?” The answer with the highest percentage of responses by far was “quality of work/doing a good job/doing job right or well,” with 51% citing it as their top measure of success.  How do we gauge how well we’re doing our job? By whether or not we advance—whether or we’re given higher ratings, bigger titles, bigger offices, more money, more responsibilities, better projects,etc.

It’s not surprising then that the idea of plateauing or even stepping back is difficult, especially if you’re a Type-A person who is used to always grabbing for that next rung onthe ladder. If you aren’t advancing, you must be failing. Right?   But this belief is built on myth. Avoiding the red flags and roadblocks caused by an attachment to advancement requires dispelling the following myths…”  (Click here for more and to print or download PDF)

Takeaway Action Steps to Redefine Success Related to Advancement:

There are three lanes in the Work+Life Fit highway—fast lane, stop at the side of the road, and the “slower lane.”  We need to use them all. We pursue, yet resist, life in the fast lane.  When we are overwhelmed and feel there’s no other choice, we look for an off-ramp with the promise of being able to find an on-ramp someday.   We’ve limited our choices to an all-or-nothing highway.  I’m either in, or I’m out.

But in today’s reality there’s no guarantee of staying in the fast lane forever.  On-ramps are rare, if not non-existent; therefore, taking a career break really means stopping at the side of the road.  To stay on the highway, requires using the “slower” lane.

In this new era, over the course of a career, we will flexibly move, voluntarily and involuntarily, back and forth among the fast lane, the shoulder and increasingly, the slower lane.

What I love about this imagery is that even if you are pulling over into the slower lane you are still moving forward, just at a different pace.  Making the decision to not take a promotion, to take a pay cut to save your job, to take a lower level job in a new industry, to give up some of your responsibilities, to become a project-based consultant or to reduce your schedule doesn’t mean you are off the highway or moving backward.  You’re still in the game, just in a different lane for a period of time.

We need to recognize that the theory of spending time in the slower lane doesn’t sound so bad, until you look back over at the fast lane.  What’s happening?  Someone is passing you by.  That can be very difficult if we hold on to our traditional, rigid standards of success.  Moving among all three options means managing our expectations so that we are satisfied when we find ourselves reducing our momentum.   And then, when the time is right, pulling right back over into the fast lane.

Directly challenge common advancement related myths:…(Click here to go to Fast Company for more)

Test Your Perceptions vs. Work+Life Reality–NSCW Implications

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“The National Study of the Changing Workforce is here!  The National Study of the Changing Workforce is here!”  Yes, that’s how I responded when I received the 2008 National Study of the Changing Workforce (NSCW). Ever since I worked at Families and Work Institute, the NSCW has been one of my favorite pieces of research (yes, I have favorite pieces of research).  Not only does the NSCW offer a very accurate snapshot of the prevailing work+life reality in a given period of time.  But, more importantly, it gives us an opportunity to step back and see if the way we are collectively talking about and thinking about work and life matches reality.  In my opinion, it doesn’t.

My recent conversation with a female MBA student at one of the top business schools provides a perfect example.  She called to interview me for the student newspaper and wanted some tips for women MBAs about how to manage their work and life after they got out of school.  My first tip—“Realize that managing work and life isn’t just an issue for women.  In fact, men report higher levels of work-life conflict.”  Not surprisingly, she responded, “What? Really?” It wasn’t until I showed her the results of the NSCW, and she confirmed the findings with male MBA students that she began to understand how outdated her assumptions were.

Here are other highlights from the NSCW that together create a snapshot of today’s work-life reality.  As you read, ask yourself, does the picture below inform the way:
•    I think about and talk about work-life issues (even if different than my own circumstances)?
•    My manager/employer thinks about, talks about, and addresses work-life issues?
•    The media presents work-life issues?
•    The government addresses work-life issues?

Reality #1: Women and men under 29 years old are equally likely to want jobs with greater responsibility, which was not the case in the past when men were more likely to report wanting more responsibility.

Reality #2: Women under 29 years old with children are no less likely than women without children to want jobs with more responsibility, which was not the case in the past when women with children were less likely to want jobs with more responsibility.

Reality #3: Women’s labor force participation continues to increase, with 71% of mothers with children under the age of 18 working in 2007.  In 2005-2006, women earned a majority of all bachelor’s degrees (58%) and master’s degrees (60%).

Reality #4: 79% of married employees are part of a dual-earner couple (up from 66% in 1977).  In 2008, women contributed 44% of the annual dual-earner family income, up from 39% in 1997, which makes the loss of their jobs even more detrimental.

Reality #5: For the first time in 2008, the percentage of men and women who agree with the statement that “it’s better for all involved if the man earns the money and the woman takes care of the home and children” was inconsequential and not significantly different (42% of men and 39% of women in 2008, versus 74% of men and 52% of women in 1977).

Reality #6: In 2008, 73% of respondents either strongly or somewhat agreed that “a mother who works outside the home can have just as good a relationship with her children as a mother who does not work,” a big increase from 58% in 1977. Interestingly, even though a majority of men agreed with the statement in 2008 (67%), they do still lag behind the women (80%).

Reality #7: Employed fathers are spending significantly more time with their children under 13 than they did in 1977, with millennial fathers reporting the biggest increase.  Men are also:
•    Taking more responsibility for the care of the children (49% say they take more or equal share of care in 2008, versus 41% in 1992)
•    Doing more or an equal share of the cooking (56% of men in 2008, versus 34% in 1992)
•    Doing more or an equal share of the house cleaning (53% of men in 2008 versus 40% in 1992).

Reality #8: Not surprisingly, “Men’s reported level of work-life conflict has risen significantly from 34% in 1977 to 45% in 2008, while women’s work-life conflict has increased less dramatically and not significantly: from 34% in 1977 to 39% in 2008.” And the level of conflict is even higher for dual-earner fathers, with 59% experiencing some or a lot of conflict in 2008, versus 45% of dual-earner mothers.

What did you think?  Does the reality outlined above inform the way:
•    You think about and talk about work-life issues?
•    Your manager/employer thinks about, talks about, and addresses work-life issues?
•    The media presents work-life issues?
•    The government addresses work-life issues?

I think we have a long way to go before the perceptions and the debate related to work-life issues on all of these levels matches reality.  Hopefully, the NSCW will help close the gap. What do you think?

A couple of interesting work-life resources/opportunities:

  1. Work & Family Life is a monthly, cost-effective magazine that companies and organizations can distribute to their employees.  Work & Family Life is full of great work-life related information (click here to view a recent issue).  For more information contact the publisher, Dr. Susan Ginsburg at or 1-800-278-2579
  2. Are you a mom interested in sharing what it was like to transition from working woman to working mom?  FWO Consulting is conducting a national online survey of moms to learn more about this often challenging change.  To learn more about FWO and the survey, go to   Another resource for women transitioning to motherhood is provided by Rachel Egan at Maternity Transitions

“Shared Care”—Work+Life Fit in Action

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(Check out my latest Fast Company blog post, “Launching the “Attention” Movement, Distracted by Maggie Jackson)

One of the most entrenched mindset shifts we need to make about work and life in the 21st century is that it’s no longer a dichotomous choice between working or not working. The truth is that there are countless work+life fit possibilities from which to choose, and there’s no right answer.

You would think this realization would be a source of celebration and liberation, but I often find confusion. “What do you mean? What do these possibilities look like? How do I do it?” People want examples. They need new models of the work+life fit possibilities that they can adapt to their own lives. This is why I love “Shared Care” the model of shared parenting developed by Jessica DeGroot and the ThirdPath Institute. It is work+life fit in action.

The “Shared Care” model and the work of ThirdPath got a big boost last weekend when it was showcased in Lisa Belkin’s cover story, “When Mom and Dad Share it All,” in The New York Times magazine section. In the article, you get to see how a number of couples worked together to creatively manage their work+life fit to share the care of their children.

A couple of important takeaways from the article that will hopefully help parents make the mindset shift and allow shared care to work for them and their children: