Dads Should Take Paternity Leave. Here’s Why

(Bloomberg) --

Ever since Alexis Ohanian’s daughter was born two years ago, his Instagram account has featured a steady diet of dad content. He’s kissing his daughter, blowing zerberts on her stomach, feeding her mushy food, flopping exhausted on the floor—a routine that will look familiar to a lot of new parents. But as the co-founder of Reddit and the husband of Serena Williams, Ohanian’s performative fatherhood is also a social and political statement.

Among men who have access to paid parental leave, most don’t take full advantage, and Ohanian wants to change that. “Let's be real,” he said on this week’s episode of The Pay Check. “Of all the things we're asking men to do, spending some time with their newborn and their partner is not the hardest thing.”

The stigma, though, is real for men, said Willamette University law professor Keith Cunningham-Parmeter. In his research on what happens to men who take paternity leave, he found that they tend to lose status in the workplace if they’re seen bucking traditional masculine gender norms. Being a little involved with kids is OK—say, coaching Little League or leaving early for the occasional game—but beyond that, employers’ may see them as doing “women’s work” and question their commitments to their jobs.

In California, where Ohanian runs a venture firm called Initialized Capital, the law allows fathers to take up to 6 weeks of partially paid leave—and yet, men only make up one-quarter of Californians who take paid leave. Ohanian thinks that if more bosses start taking paternity leave, it would set a good example for anyone lower down on the ladder. 

Initialized Capital offers 16 weeks of leave to new parents. Ohanian took all of it. “I heard from a lot of employees in the Valley how important it was that they saw me taking my full 16 weeks and being really outspoken about it,” he said. “Once the stigma washes away, it'll be pretty quick to adapt.”

Something else that might help: money. Together with Dove’s men’s skincare brand, Dove Men+Care, Ohanian started a $1 million fund that will pay new dads $5,000 to take time off to spend with their new babies.

It’s a modest beginning, one designed to draw attention to lack of benefits for new dads. Ohanian is trying to build broader support for that, too. As of now, less than 20 percent of men in the U.S. get any amount of employer-provided paid paternity leave. The rest have to make do with the Family Medical Leave Act, which allows them to take only three months off—unpaid. 

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