Both my husband and I were lucky enough to have the support and freedom from our employers to take some time off when our daughter was born. Those days of adjustment and bonding helped us to transition into our new roles as parents. Unfortunately, not all parents have that opportunity. For that reason, new father Alexis Ohanian's op-ed calling for paid leave for new moms and new dads is a powerful must-read. From the importance of time together as a family, to the smart business sense that leave makes, Ohanian broke down the why and how of paid parental leave.
In case his name is new to you, here's a quick bit of background on who Ohanian is. Along with being married to a lady named Serena Williams and father to one of the cutest babies that I've ever seen, he is also a published author and co-founder of the site Reddit and Initialized Capital, which The Hill defines as "a seed stage venture fund with over $230M under management and a portfolio with $20B in market value." But of all his roles, fatherhood has inspired him to pen a powerful essay on paternity and maternity leave.
In his op-ed, published by The Hill, Ohanian calls for inclusive, customized, flexible parental leave that will suit the unique needs of families across the country and "allow our people to take care of their families when they need them." As he described it in his op-ed, not only does such leave make ethical sense, it's business savvy as well. "We employ humans, not robots, and if you’re expecting them to do great work, they need to be in a healthy state of mind," he wrote for The Hill.
Ohanian's essay is an important one because the United States is the only industrialized nation in the world that does not require employers to offer maternity leave to new parents, according to both Ohanian and a report from Business Insider. And Ohanian pointed out in his op-ed the impact that this has on families. "As a result, one in four mothers return to work within two weeks of giving birth," he wrote for The Hill. "That’s not good for our country, our kids, or our health."
The United States isn't completely without leave policy, though. The Cut reported that the only current federal mandate for maternity leave is for unpaid time off, and even that isn't offered across the board. The Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA), protects employees' positions for "up to 12 weeks after childbirth or adoption," but only if the employees have been employed for a year and the employer has more than 50 employees within 75 miles of where you work, according to The Cut.
Aside from federal law, many companies in the United States offer parental leave of their own accord. But that leave also fails to help most families. According to a report by the nonprofit PL+US: Paid Leave for the United States, most companies only offer such benefits to their top-level employees, according to USA Today. For Ohanian, that is just won't do. As he wrote for The Hill:
Whether you’re in the C-suite or just starting out in the workforce, you should be able to prioritize your family when they need you, but right now it’s mostly people in high-paying jobs who have that chance and can afford expensive childcare even if they don’t. Ninety four percent of low wage working people don’t have a single day of paid family leave.
Ohanian also goes into the inequality that comes with being a working parent. "We still celebrate when a man simply acknowledges having a child, let alone doing their part to help raise them, while women in the workplace face a tremendous double standard as they balance supporting their family with their career," he wrote for The Hill.
That double standard comes with a great cost for working mothers. While many working fathers receive a wage bonus, most women are fiscally penalized for having children. This parenthood pay gap is often referred to as the motherhood penalty/ fatherhood bonus, according to The New York Times. Michelle Budig, a sociology professor at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst, who has studied the parenthood pay gap for 15 years explained to The New York Times why the discrepancy persists:
Employers read fathers as more stable and committed to their work; they have a family to provide for, so they’re less likely to be flaky. That is the opposite of how parenthood by women is interpreted by employers. The conventional story is they work less and they’re more distractible when on the job.
Ohanian is calling on citizens and lawmakers alike to push for more beneficial leave policy, and it seems that the majority of Americans would agree. A 2017 poll conducted by MSN found that 93 percent "agree that mothers should receive some paid leave after new babies arrive," as reported by Business Insider. Additionally, 85 percent believe that fathers should get paid leave and 88 percent expect adoptive parents to receive the same treatment, according to Business Insider.
But how can you get involved in making these changes a reality? Ohanian urges you to use the midterm elections as an opportunity to prioritize parental leave. Your voice matters.