On paper, fathers working at Yale have the same parenting resources available to them as mothers. But not all University employees experience being a parent at Yale the same way.
For Yale faculty, staff and graduate students starting a family, there are a number of available support networks provided through employer benefits — among them paid parental leave and free health insurance. In addition, groups like the WorkLife Committee — a collection of Yale library employees — aim to help staff members balance their responsibilities at work with their roles at home. Still, faculty and staff interviewed said Yale should extend paid leave for mothers and fathers in equal amounts, thereby allowing parents to raise a child together regardless of their respective employee statuses.
Under federal law, all Yale employees are entitled to 12 weeks of unpaid parental leave after the birth of a child. But when it comes to paid leave, Yale’s benefits differ according to the position of the employee. For staff, Yale offers any new parent a two-week leave after a child’s birth, and that parent can also qualify for medical leave for up to eight weeks. Furthermore, a 2013 Working Women magazine article reported that the average length of paid maternity leave among Yale employees is 10 weeks, while the average length of paid paternity leave is eight weeks.
“The paid parental leave that has been offered for two weeks is a tiny step forward for both parents,” Jordan Jefferson, co-chair of the WorkLife Committee, said. “It’s a good-faith effort in recognizing that [parenting] is a shared responsibility. Two weeks is nothing in the life of a newborn child.”
Jefferson, who recently returned to work after having a child, combined the two-week paid parental leave that Yale guarantees with eight weeks of medical leave, as well as many accrued sick days and vacation time. But, as Jefferson pointed out, a husband’s role in childbirth does not qualify him for medical leave. Jefferson said she wishes both she and her husband had more paid leave after she gave birth to take care of the child.
Jefferson’s husband, who is not a Yale employee, received less leave from his employer than Jefferson did from Yale. This left Jefferson to shoulder more childcare responsibilities after her husband returned to work.
“It’s not really until we recognize that there are many different types of families and child-rearing situations that we’ll see a need for parity and equality,” Jefferson said, adding that at Yale and across America, “it’s an institutionalized, systemic belief that child-rearing is women’s work.”
The problem lies with America’s laws surrounding paid parental leave, said Michael Bell, associate university librarian for administrative services. Bell explained that Sweden has more extensive paid time off for both parents, and that two-parent families receive bonuses there. Bell said he wishes there were more extensive paid time off for child-rearing in the United States.
History professor Stuart Semmel said parenting can be easier when both parents are members of the Yale faculty, as both parents receive comparable parenting benefits. But Semmel added that all parents within the Yale faculty must plan their academic careers with their parenting roles in mind. Semmel’s wife also works at Yale as a professor of East Asian Languages and Literatures.
While Semmel has had to apply for parental leave himself, he said he knows of female colleagues who feel strongly about the different ways in which fathers and mothers are treated. In some cases, Semmel said, he has heard of women who say they have felt pressured to cover up the fact that they have childcare needs, or even the fact that they have children at all. At Yale, though, Semmel said he and his wife have never experienced such unequal treatment.
Lisa Brandes, assistant dean for student affairs and director of the McDougal Center, said equal parenting benefits exist for both male and female graduate students, adding that all Ph.D. candidates can take advantage of parental leave for up to a semester. Graduate School Dean Lynn Cooley said Yale provides better benefits for graduate student parents than many of its peer institutions. But parents interviewed said that when both parents work at Yale, scheduling problems often arise.
Anna Jurkevics GRD ’15, a graduate teaching fellow, whose husband also teaches at Yale, said she is often frustrated when colleagues schedule meetings between 4 and 5 p.m. — the time when her children need to be picked up from school.
Still, Semmel said faculty members who are also parents often feel more connected to one another. This connection builds mutual understanding between parents and produces a workplace where both fathers and mothers can feel comfortable, he added.
“A lot of the job of juggling work and life is in the hands of the jugglers,” Semmel said.
A 2014 study by the Yale and the Fatherhood Institute in London found that while fathers have a substantial impact on child development and family functioning, little research has been done on the role of fathers in a child’s life compared to that of mothers.