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Fathers are more likely to utilize work-life programs marketed to men

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Fathers are more likely to utilize work-life programs marketed to men

PHOENIX—Employers that want to be more father-friendly need to provide work-life policies and programs that are tailored to men, a consultant advises.

Although employers may provide gender-neutral work-life balance programs to all employees, when it comes to actual utilization of the programs, working mothers generally are more likely to take advantage of them, said Christopher A. Brown, senior vp-national programming for the National Fatherhood Initiative based in Cedar Park, Texas.

But as more working fathers share in parenting and domestic responsibilities, they are becoming more "confused" and "stressed," Mr. Brown said during a session at the 2007 Work-Life Conference & Exhibition presented by WorldatWork and the Alliance for Work-Life Progress.

"That doesn't necessarily surprise us, but what it tells us is that the time is right for this kind of work," he said, referring to father-specific work-life programs. "I think mothers are struggling with this issue as well, but because moms have been working on this for many, many more years than dads have, and companies have been focused more on moms than dads over time, you've got a bunch of confused dads out there in the workplace and that really has a negative effect on the company."

Programs designed for fathers are necessary for a variety of reasons, Mr. Brown said. Not only do men and women parent differently, but men and women approach work-life balance differently due to cultural dynamics, he said. For example, cultural conventions often encourage working mothers to define themselves in terms of their success at home than at work, while fathers tend to define themselves by success at work rather than at home.

In addition, "fathers group and learn differently" than working mothers, he added. "In general, men don't come together in groups to talk about being a parent. Primarily the networks we have as men and fathers are for the exchange of information and material goods. It's generally not for emotional support," Mr. Brown said.

Men also respond to different marketing images and messages than women, he said. Men respond to different colors and to different pictures that connect them with their kids.

"So if you're approaching this from a generic parenting perspective, it becomes very, very difficult to create programs and market them effectively to get men and fathers" engaged, Mr. Brown said.

Overall, he said that he has found that most work-family policies will succeed for mothers and fathers as long as employers market them specifically to fathers. "You have to create separate campaigns and separate marketing messages to fathers," he said. Employers need to address fathers directly and tell them "it's OK for them to take advantage of the policies."

"When we've gone into corporations, one of the things we've found we have to do is communicate to the dads what their company offers," Mr. Brown said. Many times working dads have never heard about the policies because the company creates them and then expects the father to read them. "They don't do anything proactive to let the father know that these policies exist and that it is OK for them to use" them.

Mr. Brown suggests that employers become more "creative" in this area.

"The best way to communicate that message is to use men and fathers who are actually taking advantage of those (benefits) because it helps men understand that it's OK and that they can be comfortable and that the company is not going to punish them in any way for using these programs," Mr. Brown said.