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For Tech Dads, Is Paternity Leave Risky?

Tech culture prizes long hours at the office. How does that influence new fathers when it comes to family leave?

Earlier this week, The New York Times published a detailed story about the career risks men face when they take paternity leave to help care for a newborn child.

As the story reports, "Taking time off for family obligations… could have long-term negative effects on a man's career -- like lower pay or being passed over for promotions."

This isn't meant to garner sympathy for men; after all, women have had to face this risk -- and suffer real consquences -- for ages. But it got me wondering about the tech industry and whether there's a stigma associated with family leave.

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Tech culture tends to celebrate long hours at the office, whether it's unsnarling a gnarly network configuration until 2:00 a.m., or a coding marathon that stretches over multiple days. One implication of this culture is that people who don't put in Olympian hours might be regarded as less valuable to the organization.

Thus, while companies might have explicit policies that make paternal or family leave available -- and federal law requires that companies with 50 or more employees provide at least 12 weeks of unpaid leave for events such as childbirth and adoption -- internal culture might influence men to take just a small portion of it, if any at all.

This isn't a problem just in the tech industry, but in the workplace overall. According to the NYT story, almost two thirds of men who took time off from work after a child's birth took a week or less. That's unfortunate, because the story suggests that the more that men become involved in child care, the more positive effect it will have on women.

The article cites a statistic from the Institute for Labor Market Policy Evaluation, which is in Sweden, that for every month of leave a father takes, the mother's "future earnings increased an average of 7 percent."

The same tech culture that makes hours worked into a status marker might also be trying to change attitudes toward paternity leave. The NYT article notes that Facebook offers four months of paid family leave and profiles a male Facebook exec who took the entire time. However, the article also notes that, although a majority of female employees at Facebook will take the full leave, most male employees only take a portion.

Do you believe there's a stigma associated with family leave? If you were offered paid leave for childbirth or adoption, did you take the maximum available amount? If so, did you notice any repercussions when you returned to the office (aside from a mountain of unanswered email)?

If you were offered leave but didn't take full advantage, why not? Does your company culture support family leave? Would you support a colleague or employee who wanted the time off?

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Editor's Choice
Brian T. Horowitz, Contributing Reporter
Samuel Greengard, Contributing Reporter
Nathan Eddy, Freelance Writer
Brandon Taylor, Digital Editorial Program Manager
Jessica Davis, Senior Editor
Cynthia Harvey, Freelance Journalist, InformationWeek
Sara Peters, Editor-in-Chief, InformationWeek / Network Computing