Workplace Discrimination: The Hidden Discrimination Divorced Dads Face At Work

Why Divorced Dads Get Short Shrift At Work
Businessman in depression with hand on forehead
Businessman in depression with hand on forehead

There's no denying that regardless of time and progress, men still hold the advantage in the workplace. The tide has turned in women's favor over the years, but a man, on average, will still make more money than a woman who is working the same job. Likewise, women still have to contend with their share of harassment. In these terms, it often seems that men have little to complain about it when it comes to office culture.

Things can be a little different if you're a dad, however. Especially if you're a dad who chooses to be strongly involved and present in your kids' care and upbringing. And even more especially if you happen to be a dad who's divorced. Because divorced dads suffer routinely from one of the last remaining forms of socially acceptable workplace discrimination. I should know -- I'm one of them.

For me, and for so many men like me, being an involved parent and being a productive employee can often be at odds. The need to properly raise one's child is something that most modern workplaces do respect and make provisions for -- but this respect seems to extend mainly to mothers. For fathers, it seems the message is, "Work first, parenthood second."

In my 15-year career in communications, I've worked in a wide variety of offices. Across the board, there is an unwritten rule -- as there should be -- that a working mother must always be there for her children first and foremost. Often, moms can negotiate for a special work schedule, which allows them to pick up their kids from school. Leaving early or coming in late on a regular basis is given the green light. Leaving work for doctor's appointments and school functions are regular occurrences and perfectly acceptable excuses with superiors -- many of whom, in this day and age, are moms themselves.

Ask any working dad and he will tell you that it is significantly more difficult to win that same unspoken respect that moms often enjoy in the workplace.

Let me state for the record that I do not mean to imply that moms in the workplace have a free ride; this is certainly not true, as women still must often struggle to find the balance between motherhood and career. I am stating that it is much harder for dads to receive this same parental leniency, and that it's a double standard that we need to start working to fix.

After spending 11 years as a working father in a variety of environments, I can tell you that it is exceedingly more difficult for me to obtain the same kind of parental leeway granted to female co-workers. For me, and for many men like me, leaving work early to pick up kids, or to attend a PTA meeting, for example, is nowhere near as simple or socially acceptable.

The general attitude in the workplace towards these dads is, "Don't the kids have a Mom? Can't she take care of it?" As a dad, you're usually less of a parent in the eyes of workplace superiors. You are seen as less essential to your kid, meaning by implication that you can, and should, give more of yourself to the job than a mom should be expected to. This attitude is tough enough to combat as a married father, who can, however unfairly, fall back on that maternal involvement when need be. But what about divorced dads, who either have full custody of their children, or, if they share custody, are solely responsible for their kids during the time they have them? There is no Mom for me to fall back on during those times.

When I ask for permission to leave early on the evenings that I have my kids -- so that I can pick them up from my all-too-accommodating parents and don't have to throw food down their throats and immediately toss them into bed -- I'm met with a decidedly cold response.

I still distinctly recall the time I politely inquired if I could bring my 8-year-old son into the office for a few hours on a day his school was closed. I suggested he could quietly work at an empty desk for a bit while I got a few things done in the office. I certainly didn't expect that permission would be guaranteed, but I also didn't expect the response to be so perfunctory and downright rude: a curt email that read, simply, "You will have to find another alternative. Thank you."

I would have settled for, "Look, I wish I could, but then every parent in the office would be asking for the same." Or any kind of balanced, compassionate response. But I may as well have been asking for a seat on the board of directors. I was made to feel inadequate as an employee, as if I'm a liability. Worst of all, I've watched female co-workers granted this and other privileges it requires me a near act of Congress to secure.

So while it is certainly true that men do get a better deal in the workplace than most women, each time I have to miss my daughter's cello performance, or pawn my son off on amiable friends and family who already do too much, that feels like a small consolation. It's an offensive workplace double standard that is unfair not only to working fathers themselves, but to the mothers being confined to outdated gender roles by default.

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