“Many fathers parent their sons the way their fathers did to them, and not all had positive experiences with their own fathers.” – Jason Leong, Chief Executive Officer of Better Dads Malaysia, during a panel session at LeadWomen’s International Men’s Day event.
Caregiving has traditionally been regarded as a woman’s domain, with men being in the background. However as we progress as a society, more and more fathers are expressing their wishes to be positively involved in their children’s lives. According to Dr. Alvin Ng Lai Oon, a professor and clinical psychologist at Sunway University, a father’s early interactions and bond with his children can significantly influence the quality of their relationship later in life. He stresses that fathers who adopt a positive, nurturing, engaging, and stimulating approach can encourage healthy child development and minimize the likelihood of developmental delays (The Star, 2023).
He underlined the importance of giving opportunities for fathers to actively participate in parenting, moving beyond the traditional role of the breadwinner and taking on a more hands-on approach in raising their children alongside mothers. This shift calls for a greater involvement of fathers in parenting, rather than relying solely on mothers as the primary caregivers.
So should fathers prioritize their involvement in the home life of their children to the same extent as mothers?
Working mothers represent a substantial proportion of the workforce, demonstrating their role in the labor market. According to Psychology Today (2023), being a parent affects how people view women and men in the workplace. While women may face stereotypes implying a decline in competence and commitment, men may be perceived as more dedicated and responsible due to their fatherhood.
Choy Chan Mun, a Malaysian stay-at-home father, expressed that there is a common misconception that it is the mother’s role to raise her kids. People often forget that the responsibility of raising children should not fall solely on one parent; both parents should be actively involved.
In an interview for Rethink Life (2021), he shared that gender stereotyping is deeply ingrained in our family traditions and cultural norms. These deeply held beliefs may have been relevant in the past, but as time progresses and society evolves, these social norms are bound to change. The father, whose wife works as a consulting director, has been working from home to care for their two daughters, the youngest of whom was diagnosed with a profound brain injury.
A 2019 Ipsos survey in Malaysia delved into societal perspectives on stay-at-home fathers and their perceived level of masculinity. While 22% of individuals surveyed believed that stay-at-home fathers were less of a man, a resounding 74% disagreed with this sentiment.
Extended Maternity and Paternity Leave
In a step towards gender equality in the workplace, Malaysia’s Parliament extended paternity leave from three days to seven days in 2022. This amendment, which came into effect in March 2023, enables eligible working fathers to take seven consecutive days of paid leave to support their spouses and bond with their newborn child.
To qualify for paternity leave, fathers must be married and have worked for their current employer for at least 12 months. While some fathers expressed a desire for a longer leave period, others believe the seven days are sufficient to provide valuable support during the initial transition period.
Additionally, the Malaysian Parliament increased maternity leave from 60 days to 98 days for private sector employees and 90 days for civil servants, aligning with the recommendations of the International Labour Organisation.
Should fathers be granted a longer period of paternity leave?
A study by McKinsey & Company (2021) surveyed 130 new fathers and their partners from ten different countries about their experiences with extended paternity leave. The overwhelming majority of the fathers reported having a positive experience, even though some initially had concerns about the potential impact on their careers.
Paternity leave is gaining momentum worldwide, with 90 out of 187 countries providing statutory paid leave and nearly four in ten organizations (38%) offering paid leave above the legal minimum.
Research findings also suggest that paternity leave can benefit families in multiple ways, including strengthening relationships, enhancing financial stability, and fostering greater loyalty among employees towards supportive employers.
McKinsey & Company identifies five strategies to make paternity leave more appealing and encourage its uptake by new fathers:
- Give fathers the same benefits given to new mothers
- Create a culture that embraces paternity leave
- Clarify the impact on one’s career
- Help fathers reintegrate into the workplace after leave
- Establish family-friendly policies to support working fathers
While there is been a significant shift in mindsets about fatherhood over the past decade, the stereotypes remain entrenched in today’s corporate world. Leaders can start by role-modeling and initiate conversations around this topic with employees. This will encourage a win-win situation where fathers are able to have more time with their families, and mothers being able to focus on other tasks.
What LeadWomen is doing
LeadWomen’s Inclusive Playbook is an innovative program that utilizes interactive learning techniques to foster gender inclusion in organizations. By harnessing the power of play and movement, the program creates an immersive learning experience that breaks down complex concepts of inclusion into easily understandable and actionable steps. This comprehensive program aligns with the Women’s Empowerment Principles (WEPs) Training, a globally recognized framework developed by UN Women and UN Global Compact to promote gender equality in the private sector.
- Chau, C. (2022, May 19). Malaysia raises paternity leave to seven days. HRM Asia. https://hrmasia.com/malaysia-raises-paternity-leave-to-7-days/
- Lim, S. (2021, February 1). Raising my daughters as a stay-home-father, by Choy Chan Mun. Comma: Rethink Life. https://www.rethinklife.my/2020/06/17/raising-my-daughters-as-a-stay-home-father-by-choy-chan-mun/
- Malaysia: Opinions on stay-at-home dads 2019. Statista. (2022, October 5). https://www.statista.com/statistics/989533/malaysia-opinions-stay-at-home-fathers-less-of-a-man/
- McKinsey & Company. (2021, March 5). A fresh look at paternity leave: Why the benefits extend beyond the personal. McKinsey & Company. https://www.mckinsey.com/capabilities/people-and-organizational-performance/our-insights/a-fresh-look-at-paternity-leave-why-the-benefits-extend-beyond-the-personal
- Oon, D. A. N. L. (2023, October 5). In one- or two-parent households, what’s important is to be present for the kids. The Star. https://www.thestar.com.my/lifestyle/family/2023/10/09/in-one–or-two-parent-households-what039s-important-is-to-be-present-for-the-kids