As Alexis Ohanian and Serena Williams’ daughter, Olympia, turns three years old this month, Ohanian has been reflecting on the early days after she was born.
In a recent essay published by Fast Company, Ohanian writes about how “special it was to spend that time with her and her mother as I took my first steps into fatherhood”.
Ohanian, as the co-founder of Reddit, is one of the world’s most high-profile tech entrepreneurs and he’s long been an advocate for better paid parental leave policy in the U.S.
He has used his profile at Reddit (and as Serena Williams’ husband), to encourage other men to consider taking parental leave, if they have it available to them.
It’s been well documented that after Olympia was born, Ohanian took four months of paid parental leave, which was Reddit’s company policy at the time.
“I was disheartened to read recently about the former CEO of a fitness brand who (among other abhorrent discrimination accusations) allegedly disparaged a male colleague who was contemplating taking paternity leave,” Ohanian writes for Fast Company.
“While it was upsetting to see, especially from a company that touts community as a priority, it was not shocking.”
Ohanian notes that while only a small fraction of U.S. companies offer paid parental leave, the reality is that many men don’t take advantage of the opportunity when it is available. It often comes down to a looming stigma or a fear of losing their standing at work, or in some cases fear of losing their job altogether.
“The implication that paternity leave is unimportant sets a dangerous precedent, one that suggests fathers are not an integral part of the child care unit, and perpetuates the antiquated belief that mothers alone should be the primary caregivers,” Ohanian writes.
“Worse, explicitly (or implicitly) telling a male employee that they’re less of a man for taking time to be with their family after their child’s birth is as stupid as it is outdated. Showing up is exactly what fathers should be doing for their families.”
As we continue to navigate the COVID-19 crisis and subsequent economic fallout, Ohanian says we can long go back to normal. Instead, we need use the opportunity to take inventory of broken systems, and work on fixing them.
In the business world, equitable paid parental leave can benefit a company by attracting and retaining talent.
“A study conducted by Promundo, an international nonprofit, finds that 77% of millennial men have or would be willing to change jobs in order to better manage fatherhood responsibilities with career responsibilities,” he writes.
Overcoming the stigma around men taking parental leave involves empowering men and normalising it when it happens. It’s about empowering fathers to embrace parental leave as a right they are entitled to, and not a career choice they have to make.
Ohanian writes that high powered executives and leaders with public profiles have a responsibility to set an example.
“Executives in positions of power need to take full advantage of those policies and encourage their employees to do the same.”
“Business leaders with public profiles (who can normalize policies) have an extra responsibility by showing that we’re performing at the top of our fields not in spite of taking paternity leave, but because we are taking it.”
According to Ohanian, in Sweden, where equitable paid parental leave is provided and fathers are encouraged to take it, men can help close the gender pay gap. Research shows that a mother’s earnings can rise by about 7 per cent for each additional month her spouse is able to take leave.
“Business leaders in the United States supporting paternity leave wouldn’t just be helping men spend time with their newborns—they are setting up families for a better quality of life,” he writes.
Ohanian acknowledges that his situation, as a wealthy and high profile business person, who happens to be married to a high-earning athlete, is not the norm for most dads and families. But he’s advocating for change in the system so that other dads to get the same opportunity he did.
“Currently, the U.S. is the only industrialized country that doesn’t provide some form of paid family leave. It’s time to change that,” he writes.
“As I celebrate another year with my daughter, I feel not only fortunate to have been there for all the milestones at the start of her life, but I also realize how critical it is for other fathers to have that same opportunity.”