Career Advice Apr 26 2012

Men on the Mommy Track

By damian ghigliotty

Steve Glor, a 42-year-old marketing consultant, feels stuck. Since he got his M.B.A. from San Diego State University 14 years ago, he has worked for a string of small outfits, many of which have shut down. He now envies the more stable career routes of former classmates who work for big consumer companies and ad agencies.

But since he became the primary parent of his 10-year-old twins three years ago following his divorce in 2005, he has been hesitant to take on a regular schedule demanded by a full-time corporate job. He keeps a flexible schedule so he can dedicate enough time to his son and daughter, especially since his income allows for only an occasional babysitter.

"Getting back into the corporate world on a full-time basis would require enough pay to cover the cost of child care," said Glor, who sold advertising for the Disney-owned shopper magazine Pennysaver in the 1990s. "That's where it becomes a catch-22. You have to have the child care in place to be ready to make that career switch, but you need the money coming in first."

Glor is dealing with a problem traditionally faced by working women: How to juggle career responsibilities with those of child care. As more women gain equality in the workplace, more men are being put in the role of primary caregiver. Like women before them, they have to make tough choices. Some put their careers on hold, some opt for lesser paying jobs that allow flexibility and some compromise their professional dreams for time spent with the kids. Many find that, like working mothers, their careers stagnate during child rearing years.

More Single Fathers

Such sacrifices are particularly visible among single fathers living with their children, a demographic that has grown dramatically since the Women's Liberation Movement of the 1960s. While divorce rates have remained stable over the past 30 years, the number of single fathers living with their children has increased from 679,000 in 1982 to 2.23 million in 2011, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. Such men now make up 20% of single parents, up from 10% in 1960.

Increased opportunities for women and the tendency of men to take on more parenting responsibilities accounts for some of this shift. But the main cause is the increased willingness of divorce courts to award custody to fathers. "For most of the 20th century, awarding custody to the father was very rare," said Matthew Weinshenker, an assistant professor of sociology at Fordham University. "More recently, family courts shifted to a 'best interest of the child' standard that opened the door to father custody."

Men have also become more willing to make career sacrifices. Young women now surpass young men when it comes to the significance they place on having a high-paying profession, said Kim Parker, an associate director of social and demographic trends at the Pew Research Center. According to a recent Pew survey on men and women in the workplace, 66% of women ages 18 to 34 rated their career goals high on their list of life priorities, compared with 59% of men in the same age range. In 1997, 56% of young women and 58% of young men felt the same way.

"There is this increased sense of ambition and empowerment among women in the workplace," said Parker. "At the same time, men have had a harder time in this recent recession and post-industrial economy."

Reluctant to Ask for Help

Men rearing children alone are more reluctant than their female counterparts to reach out for help, so, instead, they settle, said Roland Warren, president of the National Fatherhood Initiative, a support group for fathers based in Germantown, Md. Human service organizations, from subsidized childcare programs to legal services, are often set up to accommodate mothers instead of fathers as the primary guardian, according to those familiar with the challenges that single fathers face.

That translates into single fathers feeling less able to work out scenarios with their employers, colleagues and clients that would enable them to continue pursuing their career ambitions while carrying out their family responsibilities. "Feeling that they can't talk about it makes it harder for them to work out better arrangements," said Warren.

As with working women, the slightest change in circumstances can wreak havoc. For the first four years after his divorce, Glor and his ex-wife shared custody of their children. Then she moved to Colorado in 2009, leaving him with the twins. At the time, Glor headed marketing for Freedom Grill, a San Diego start-up company manufacturing mobile barbecue grills and other tailgating products and he was able to divide his time between work and family.

Two years ago, Freedom Grill set up a licensing deal with Sunbeam Products and Glor was replaced as marketing head. Unwilling to face the prospect of sending out resume after resume to large companies in Southern California, he began consulting for small- to medium-size businesses looking for branding expertise. The downside of that work is that many of the smaller businesses "have big ideas, but no actual products or services to sell yet," he said.

Less Demanding Careers

One of his biggest concerns about trying to leave his consulting gig for a regular 9-to-5 job, Glor said, is that full-time employers will view his single parenthood as a burden. "There's always the issue of taking time off for doctors' appointments and other obligations," he said. "That can be more difficult in a corporate environment where policies on leaving the office tend to be more tightly regulated."

Other single dads say they would have chosen different, less demanding careers had they envisioned having to take responsibility for child rearing. Stephen Martin, a 49-year-old single father who lives with his two children in Columbia, Md., shares custody with his ex-wife. Since his separation in 2007, Martin has put greater emphasis on raising his 12-year-old son and 14-year-old daughter, he said. Several months after his divorce in 2009, he lost his job as a senior vice president of the disaster response management firm Macfadden & Associates due to the economic downturn.

"As soon as I was back on the job hunt I realized how tough it is managing your career without a teammate at home," he said. "If I had to go through my situation again, I would choose a career path that lets me spend more time with my children, like sports coaching or youth development."

Martin now works as an account executive for Focused eHealth Innovations, a health information technology firm based Columbia, Md. He finds it tough to watch his co-workers race up the corporate ladder as the company grows, he said. Many of his peers are able to continually work late and put in the extra hours he simply can't afford to. Martin said he also misses out on after-work networking opportunities, which is essential in his field.

"In going after new contracts and rebidding for current work through federal government proposals, those decisions are often made on the golf course or at dinner meetings," he said. "I just don't have that time, since it's very important to me that my children come home to someone and don't end up as latch-key kids."

Financial Insecurity

The commitment Martin made to being around his children on evenings and weekends has held him back from moving into a higher role at work, he said. "Being able to put in extra time is really essential when you are new to a company that is growing and still trying to build your career," he said, "I can put in the 45- to 50-hour work week that's expected of me, but not a 60- to 70-hour work week."

While he once aspired to become the head of a non-profit organization, he now sees himself remaining in a mid-level position in the long term. In lowering his career aspirations, the biggest sacrifice has been the financial security of potentially higher earnings in the years ahead, Martin said. His divorce settlement took a big chunk out of his 401K and he had to split his assets and income with his former wife, he said.

"I'm still paying my ex-wife a third of what I was making in my previous job when we were married, which was $150,000 a year," said Martin. "The problem is I'm not making that much anymore."

Martin now wonders if he will be able to retire and worries about covering the price of college tuition for his children. "With the cost of universities these days, I sometimes have to rethink what I will be able to afford for my children after they finish high school," he said. "The upside is that I have been able to show them the challenge of working through a struggle."

For Justin Frame, 39, the need to conform to a traditional role of male independence caused him to renegotiate his job and change his career ambitions. Frame, a manager at Morgan Stanley Smith Barney in Los Angeles, married in 1997, then separated in 2010 and became the legal primary parent of his 11-year-old son and 10-year-old daughter. He was living in Denver, Colo. at the time working as a regional business development manager for the Mountain States.

Relying on Parents

That job required continual travel, and for over a year he relied heavily on his parents, who are in their 60s, to babysit when trips came up unexpectedly. "As a thirty-eight-year-old professional, having your mom and dad step in and pinch-hit for you can be tough to swallow," said Frame, who grew up in Colorado. "There aren't a lot of resources out there for single fathers and as men we're not very good at asking for help. But at some point you have to reach out to those around you with hat in hand and ask for support."

After a year of talks with his higher-ups, which included him completing an internal assessment program, Frame switched jobs and relocated to Los Angeles for the best alternative that came his way: overseeing three Morgan Stanley Smith Barney branches in West Los Angeles, a job that requires little travel.

Frame's biggest sacrifice is leaving his home state, where he imagined he would spend the length of his career, he said. "I was ready to make any sacrifices I needed to in order to be home more often, even if that meant taking a step backwards," said Frame.

"As a single father, the sacrifices suddenly become very different," he said. "If I wasn't at a company that was able to support me under these circumstances, I would go some place that could. If that meant a lesser position, so be it."

Readers, are you a single dad or do you know one? Have you had to make career sacrifices?

Write to Damian Ghigliotty at Damian.Ghigliotty@dowjones.com



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