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The “Daddy Track” carries as much baggage as the “Mommy Track”

September 21, 2015

By Joe DeSantis , courtesy of SBAM Approved Partner ASE

Maybe you saw the recent ad, which must have cost a small fortune to run: Two full facing pages in The Wall Street Journal; the first page a photograph of a 40-something male executive with stylishly tousled hair, a stylish fringe of facial hair and stylishly casual dress, sitting at his desk in his high-rise office building, other high-rise office buildings visible in the distance through the glass wall behind him. He is staring at, but not seeing, the work on his desk; he is clearly pondering much bigger issues which are explained at the top of the facing page: “Am I a Good Father?” he is asking himself; “Do I Spend Too Much Time at Work?” “Can I Have it All?”

The answers at the bottom of the page, from a well-known huge financial services firm, are strikingly obscure. The first question gets the copywriter’s sympathy but the answer is, in effect, welcome to the club. The second question evokes more sympathy (“Striking the Right Balance Isn’t Easy . . .) and even a ray of hope (. . . But It Is Possible”) but, alas, no how-to’s. The last response delivers a how-to, saying in effect, “make more money with our help.” And then the payoff: “So You Can Have the Best of Both Worlds.”

To be fair to the ad designers and the copywriters, they have a product to sell and the ad will surely do a good job of selling their product. But the ad deliberately dances around the question of how to talk to businessmen who seriously question the prevailing balance between their work lives and their domestic lives.

The one thing you can be sure of is that such an ad will not directly advise a man to go ahead and take the leap—cut back your time commitment to your job and devote that time to your spouse and kids.

That is because, notwithstanding the documented increase in the frequency of parental leave policies, the cultural message men get when they cut back at work in order to devote more time to their roles as husbands and fathers is a negative one. Even more importantly, those men themselves buy into it. A 2012 study from the Pew Research Center reported that while 47% of mothers describe part-time as their ideal work situation, only 15% of men feel the same way. According to Josh Levs, author of All In, a book that addresses the need for more dad-friendly workplace policies, “The vast majority of men say they prioritize their families over work, but the workplace is itself caught in a vicious cycle. The men who do not prioritize their family, they are often in charge of the company.”

Sociologist Scott Coltrane of the University of Oregon has done research that concludes that for working men, reducing work hours for family reasons translates into reduced earnings of 15.5% over as many as 27 years. No doubt such a number looks very familiar to working women, but the underlying cultural messages to each gender are different. For women the message is that reduced pay for reduced hours of work is somehow appropriate because it is congruent with women’s historical role as primary caregivers in the family. For men, including the very men who make that change in their own lives, the message is that the same reality is simply unacceptable.

It does not help that men who today take that step are the pioneers—i.e., they really have no role models for what they are doing, and therefore must be the role models themselves. As author Levs points out, when they look for role models all they see is that the men who are running the companies are the ones who have prioritized work over family, usually for a very long time.

In the end it is about culture trumping policy. Despite the growing frequency of family-friendly policies intended to encourage working men to find greater balance between their work lives and their family lives, those 21st-century policies have not yet dragged workplace culture along with them. That can happen in time, but it has not happened yet. Marketers and advertisers know that better than anyone, and it shows up in their work.

Source: The Wall Street Journal 9/2/15; 9/9/15

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