The Reddit co-founder tells Moneyish why we need more male voices calling for parental leave policy.
Reddit co-founder Alexis Ohanian didn’t fully appreciate the value of his company’s 16-week paid parental leave policy until he had to take full advantage himself.
When his tennis superstar wife, Serena Williams, suffered life-threatening complications after giving birth to their first child Alexis Olympia last year, being home with his family was his No. 1 priority. Now he’s encouraging others, particularly men, to lobby for legislation that guarantees paid parental leave — and to take full advantage if they already have access.
“After my wife had such a tough time with the recovery, I came to appreciate it even more. That’s when it really clicked that it [parental leave] wasn’t just something that was important for us to do as a business, it’s something important for us to do as a nation,” Ohanian, 35, told Moneyish. “I could not imagine someone going through that same process, and then on top of that, not knowing if they were going to have a job to come back to and to have to worry about, ‘Oh, I have to get back to work.’ That should be the last thing on any parent’s mind.”
Reddit, the $1.8 billion social news website Ohanian founded with his business partner Steve Huffman in 2005 with a $12,000 investment, implemented its 16-week parental leave policy in 2016. Reddit’s head of people and culture, Katelin Holloway, created the firm’s first policy — inspired by her own personal experience of working right up until her due date at her previous job.
Ohanian hopes that in taking his full 16 weeks off, he’ll encourage others to take advantage of their own policies.
“I want to provide air cover to anyone who worries that a man who takes 16 weeks off to be with their family isn’t working as hard or isn’t serious enough about their career,” he said at a Folgers Coffee Company event to promote its new 1850 coffee brand in New York City.
“I challenge anyone to point at my career and say I’m not serious about it … because ultimately that’s going to mean that more women are going to have the opportunity to do it [take full advantage of parental leave] and not worry about losing their jobs as much, or have hopefully one day a workplace environment where it’s just the norm, and where they won’t have worry about the fear of balancing work and family.”
Only 14% of workers in America have access to paid parental leave, according to the Pew Research Center. And the average maximum paid maternity leave in the U.S. is 14.2 weeks, with just 12% of employers offering any paid paternity leave.
But women who take an extended maternity leave for one year or more make 7% less when they return, and have a hard time getting a promotion compared to an employee who is currently on staff and seeking the same job, a Payscale report on the gender pay gap found.
And since most American women don’t even get paid during their maternity leave, they instead rely on the Family and Medical Leave Act of 1993, or FMLA, a law that protects their job for up to 12 weeks after childbirth or adoption, enabling a woman to take unpaid leave. Only four U.S. states have legislation mandating paid family leave: California, New York, New Jersey and Rhode Island. All others are not legally obligated to do more than the standard FMLA unpaid leave requirement.
Most recently, Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) worked with White House adviser Ivanka Trump in February to draft a plan that would let employees use Social Security funds to pay for parental leave for the birth or adoption of a child. In exchange, workers would collect payments later on at retirement. And last year, Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.) introduced the FAMILY Act, a proposal backed by Democrats to increase payroll taxes to pay for leave for birth, adoption, and family and medical leave of up to 12 weeks.
Another conversation that has made headlines recently is the parental guilt associated with returning to work: Williams revealed earlier this month that she was busy training for Wimbledon when her 10-month-old daughter took her first steps. “She took her first steps…I was training and missed it. I cried,” she tweeted.
She took her first steps… I was training and missed it. I cried.
— Serena Williams (@serenawilliams) July 7, 2018
The tweet earned support from a slew of working parents who have been in the same boat, missing a pivotal first moment while they were traveling for work or away from their child. Ohanian was also quick to remind his 23-time Grand Slam-winning wife that she’s a great mom no matter what.
“We’re both very career-focused. We both want to be not just the best in the work we do, but the best parents we can be, and frankly the best partners we can be for each other. And so it’s doing my part in the partnership to remind her that she is a great mother,” Ohanian said. “Just saying it, speaking it, says a lot.” In February, for example, he purchased four giant billboards in Palm Springs that read “Greatest mother of all time.”
While the duo is known for their hard work, Ohanian said Williams has taught him a valuable lesson about work ethic: how to unplug.
“Tech definitely pushes this methodology of being the hardest-working industry and having this 24/7, always-on life … Part of getting to her level and excelling on it has been the focus on when it’s time to work and being able to dissociate yourself when it’s not,” Ohanian said. “When we’re focused on family time, it’s family time — and when we’re focused on work, we’re all in on work.”
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