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posted: 6/16/2019 6:00 AM

Dads find parental leave easier to get than to take

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  • A man climes the escalator of the Wall Street subway station near the New York Stock Exchange on Sept. 17, 2018.

    A man climes the escalator of the Wall Street subway station near the New York Stock Exchange on Sept. 17, 2018.
    Bloomberg photo by Michael Nagle

 
 

When JPMorgan Chase & Co. agreed to pay a landmark $5 million to settle a discrimination claim from a new dad, it looked like a turning point for Wall Street parents. Men who work for the biggest U.S. bank can take up to 16 weeks of parental leave, the bank emphasized, and said it would do better at making sure they know it.

But bankers across the industry say it's easier to tweak policy -- or pay the equivalent of 70 minutes of profit -- than to actually revamp the company culture that shapes the way people think and act.

Even though big banks and other Wall Street firms have boosted paid time off for new parents to some of the highest levels offered in the U.S., men still worry about staying at home for months, according to interviews with a dozen current and former employees. They fear what happens when they detach from a culture that lionizes face time and relationship upkeep. The signals are subtle and the pull of tradition is strong.

Khe Hy, who left his job as a managing director at BlackRock Inc. in 2015, said he got two "nudge-nudge wink-winks" when he took 10 days of paternity leave. "One was, 'We'll be able to reach you if we need to,' and the second one was, 'We can still include you in all conference calls, right?' " said Hy, who now coaches executives about money and writes about productivity.

"It's like: 'Come on, what could you possibly be doing in the first 10 days of your kid's life? You're not the mom.'"

A hedge fund manager who once worked for JPMorgan remembered the day his daughter was born a decade ago -- he was back to work that afternoon. A trader who used to work for Goldman Sachs Group Inc. and Citigroup Inc. said men who ask to take all the parental leave their companies offer are practically asking to get fired.

At UBS Group AG, Sam Kendall became a kind of poster dad for Wall Street leave when the senior U.S. investment banker spoke publicly in 2016 about taking six weeks off when his twins were born.

"I realized as a senior person in the organization, I had a responsibility to model the behavior," Kendall said. When his wife had another child earlier this year, he went on leave again for two weeks. The shorter break, he said, "wasn't scientific, it really wasn't. It just seemed appropriate."

Only half of all working fathers think their bosses support time off with newborns, according to a new poll by the advocacy group Paid Leave for the United States. Most companies don't give any paid parental leave in the U.S., one of only a few countries that don't mandate it.

By that measure, Wall Street is ahead of the pack. Most of the country's biggest banks and rivals including BlackRock offer 16 weeks of paid time off for primary caregivers; "secondary caregivers" get much less.

As part of JPMorgan's settlement, the bank said it would train managers to ensure they know dads can also take the longer leave. In February, Goldman Sachs introduced a new e-learning program it says will help bosses "effectively manage and support all parents." But when bonuses can more than double a banker's salary, it can be hard to imagine staying away from the office for one third of the year.

Change needs to be deeper, according to Elizabeth Gulliver, who was a vice president at Citigroup until 2016. "When something comes in as a perk, you see paid time off or flex time as the same as discounts to Equinox," said Gulliver, who co-founded Kunik, a community for working parents. "It needs to be seen as a cultural change, as a shift in mentality."

That doesn't mean Wall Street's new dads aren't taking any time off with their new kids. More than 8,000 men at Wells Fargo & Co. have taken parental leave over the past two years, a little more than half as primary caregivers.

Bank of America Corp. is the only big bank that gives 16 paid weeks to new parents in the U.S., as long as they work more than 20 hours a week, and 40% of parental leaves are taken by male employees. Steven Daigle, a senior vice president based in Florida, took the full four months when his wife had twins, around the time they also adopted two boys. He said he felt supported, though one colleague told him to consider what might go wrong while he was out.

"I didn't have anybody that was directly saying, 'Don't do this,' " said Daigle. "It was more like things to think about."

At all the banks, and at any company that offers paid parental leave, the policies themselves are supposed to be gender neutral so that women alone don't suffer the potential career consequences of having kids. But corporate culture tends to reward new parents who can get back to work right away, and most dads can. That's one reason men climb the ladder faster -- the biggest U.S. banks have only ever been run by men -- and women make less.

"In order for the playing field to be leveled out for women, the family leave playing field has to be leveled out for men," said Maria Potoroczyn, who was pregnant when she was hired at Citigroup last year. She now works on strategy for the bank. "Unless we start giving both parents the same quantity leave, we're not actually helping women advance."

Her husband, Lukas Staniszewski, works on blockchain at IBM. He's taking the full 12 weeks offered to dads there. "People believe they're more important than they are and struggle to disconnect," he said. "It's one thing to have the policy to take the leave. It's another thing to take it."

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With assistance from Bloomberg's Josh Eidelson.