When Justin Antonipillai, 32, became a father last year, he was given a six-week paid parental leave from his job as a lawyer with the District-based firm Arnold & Porter.
He now brings his 1-year-old daughter to the firm's on-site child care center and occasionally attends midday day-care center events such as picnics on the Mall. "These work/life benefits are very important to me," he said.
Antonipillai is among a growing number of men who want or expect parental leave and other family-friendly benefits in the workplace. Fathers in their twenties and thirties are leading this trend, said Joan C. Williams, director of the Program on WorkLife Law at American University's Washington College of Law and author of "Unbending Gender: Why Family and Work Conflict and What to Do About It" (Oxford University Press, 2000).
These men "are less willing to sacrifice work/family balance than baby boomers are," she said.
Jennifer Schramm, workplace trends and forecasting manager at the Alexandria-based Society for Human Resource Management, agreed: "The younger generations of men seem to demand the same work/life benefits as women."
In the past five years, many workplaces have recognized the need to "move more toward integrated work/life cultures" to retain talent, and have done so by offering flextime, parental leave, elder care or other family-friendly benefits to men as well as women, said Rebecca Shambaugh, president and chief executive of Shambaugh Leadership Group, a McLean-based executive and leadership development company.
But family benefits experts say that men who want to use these benefits still face obstacles. Only 16 percent of U.S. organizations offer paid paternity leave and just 6 percent of organizations offer on-site child care or emergency and sick child care, according to the human resources society's 2005 research. "You hear a lot about family-friendly benefits but they aren't that prevalent," Schramm said.
Even in organizations that provide such benefits, use may be low if supervisors don't encourage men to take them. "With a good supervisor all things are possible, but with a bad supervisor it doesn't matter what the policy says on paper," Williams said.
How can you know whether an organization is father-friendly when you're job hunting?
Look at Web sites such as Monster.com and Vault.com to learn "the real skinny" on existing policies for working fathers, advised Kathie Lingle, director of the Alliance for Work-Life Progress, an Arizona-based nonprofit membership association. Go for informational interviews "to verify that men are actually using these things with no penalty," she said.
During a job interview, ask about benefits, but do so carefully. "It's a delicate dance during the interview process because you don't want to be too demanding and say, 'I need this, this and this.' . . . First you need to sell yourself," said Roland C. Warren, president of the Gaithersburg-based National Fatherhood Initiative, another nonprofit group.
Fathers should find out what benefits are available to women and whether they are taken routinely, then ask the boss for the same thing, suggested Williams. If you are refused, protest "in a gentle and non-confrontational way" by saying that it's inappropriate to deny these benefits to men, she said; she added that "no employer wants to go there."
Talk to your human resources office about the implications that taking father-friendly benefits will have on your career, Shambaugh recommended. "It may be that you can have flexibility, but taking it may slow down the level of responsibility that you're given in an organization."
Warren recommended what he called an A-B-C strategy for getting management on your side:
* Ask early during the pregnancy so that you and the company have time to prepare for your leave or changed schedule.
* Be flexible in how you take time off or shift your hours.
* Communicate your family values while at work so your employer knows family is important to you long before you take paternity leave.
Once management is sold on the concept, it becomes easier to use dad-friendly policies. That was the case for Eric Boehk, 29, a senior manager in the audit practice of the McLean office of KPMG LLP, the audit, tax and advisory services firm.
Within a few months of Boehk's son's birth last year, three other men in his office also became fathers. With the encouragement of the company's leadership, each of the men took the two-week paid paternity leave that KPMG offers.
"I definitely did not have to ask for it," Boehk said.