So apparently you can lead a really, really large organisation and take leave after having a baby.
Even if you’re a man. And even if that organisation is one that you founded as a college student, has grown to list as a public company, and become one of the most powerful in the world.
That’s the statement Facebook founder and CEO Mark Zuckerberg is making by telling the world he’ll take two months off following the birth of his daughter.
Zuckerberg made the announcement on Facebook of course, months after telling the world via the social media platform, that he and his wife Priscilla had been trying for a baby for a number of years, and had suffered three heartbreaking miscarriages along the way.
Not all new dads, nor all new mums, are in a position to take parental leave, especially in the United States, which is still one of the few countries in the world to not offer government paid leave.
But financially, Zuckerberg clearly is in such a position, as are many individuals in high profile roles. Still, few leaders make such a public stance by taking beyond a couple of weeks – or even just a few days off – following the birth of a child. Rather, they perpetuate the idea that time out from the office is incompatible with leadership.
Zuckerberg hasn’t announced who will step in while he takes his leave, but there’s speculation his COO Sheryl Sandberg may assume temporary leadership duties. We’re left to assume Zuckerberg’s made his extended leave possible because he’s come up a succession plan along the way.
Zuckerberg is setting an excellent example for the 12,000 employees within his own organisation, as well as for male and female leaders everywhere who believe taking some time out from the office after the birth of a child would simply be impossible. He’s establishing a culture that says it’s ok to have your family life interrupt your work life, that it’s actually practical, healthy and perfectly normal. Indeed, his Facebook post on the announcement explains just why he’s made the decision, stating that, “Studies show that when working parents take time to be with their newborns, outcomes are better for the children and families … Every day things are getting a little more real for us, and we’re excited to start this next stage in our lives.”
He goes on to state that Facebook’s US employees receive up to four months of paid parental leave. Many tech companies offer excellent parental leave provisions, but we’re still yet to see a major trend in favour of men using such entitlements.
Zuckerberg’s declaring he’s taking the ‘working dad’ thing seriously, and acknowledging that his new parenting life will mark a significant turning point in his career. It won’t make him any less of a leader, or any less productive once he returns, but it will certainly make him different.
It’s particularly important to see such a precedent being set in the tech industry, much of which continues to promote a blokey culture and can in places struggle to attain and retain women. In Australia, less than 20% of technology workers are female.
Indeed, Facebook itself has a long way to go on gender diversity. Its latest stats, released earlier this year, revealed women hold only 16% of technical roles, and make up just 32% of the entire workforce. It wasn’t so long ago that Facebook failed to have a single woman on its board, before appointing Sheryl Sandberg, and later Susan Desmon-Hellmann to its eight-person board. Now, women make up 23% of Facebook’s senior leadership team.
Facebook has work to do, but the man at its helm appears set on leading by example, a move that has seen the media finally commenting on the parental leave choices of men, as opposed to those simply made by women (think how many op-eds were written around Marissa Mayer’s announcement she would be taking two weeks maternity leave shortly after becoming Yahoo CEO).
Zuckerberg’s post had been liked more than 300,000 times at the time of publishing, and features a comment from Sandberg: “I’m so excited for both of you. Enjoy the precious early months with your daughter – I can’t wait to meet her.”
Just like he pioneered a new means of communication, Zuckerberg’s pioneering a new trend around leadership and parental leave. Let’s hope this one catches on as quickly as his social network.