Alexis Ohanian Wants to Destigmatize Paternity Leave in Light of What the Pandemic Has Proven About Dads

Alexis Ohanian, who shares an adorable daughter with Serena Williams, is broaching the topic of paid paternity leave once more, this time with reference to the ongoing pandemic. The Reddit cofounder and former board member wrote an article for Fast Company, sharing that as his daughter just turned 3, he found himself reflecting on those early days of parenthood and what having a paternity leave meant for him and his family.

"After she was born, I took four months of paternity leave, which was Reddit's company policy . . . I wanted to set an example for all of our hundreds of employees—not just the men, but especially them," he wrote. "While a small fraction of U.S. companies (9%) offer paid paternity leave, the stark reality is that many men don't take advantage of the opportunity, due to a looming stigma and fear of losing their standing—or, even worse, their job. Unfortunately, those fears are not unfounded and that stigma is very real."

Alexis continued, sharing that he was discouraged to learn that a former fitness brand CEO allegedly belittled a male coworker who was considering taking paternity leave — but he definitely wasn't shocked to hear about it.

"Those comments are symptomatic of a larger societal sentiment and evidence that there is still so much work to be done," he wrote. "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. 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that they're less of a man for taking time to be with their family after their child's birth is as stupid as it is outdated.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. Now is the time to eliminate the stigma associated with paternity leave, once and for all."

"Now is the time to eliminate the stigma associated with paternity leave, once and for all."

In light of the ongoing pandemic, Alexis feels that Americans are now seeing what fathers can accomplish for their families while at home — when they're given the opportunity — and says that if paternity leave were normalized, more men would feel empowered to take it, thus destigmatizing it in the process.

"The benefits of normalizing paternity leave have a much greater impact beyond the father himself. Studies have shown that when men are able to take paid leave, they can help close the gender pay gap. In Sweden, where they provide equitable parental leave policies and encourage fathers to take leave, research shows a mother's earnings can rise by about 7% for each additional month her spouse is able to take leave," he wrote, adding: "Not only does equal parental leave benefit the family, but it can also benefit the 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."

"We can no longer go 'back to normal'; instead, we need to use this time to take an inventory of broken systems and get to work on fixing them."

Alexis believes that change has to start from the top — not just in terms of executives introducing paid family leave policies for their companies but also with said executives taking leave themselves and then encouraging their employees to do the same. "This sends a clear message that the policies are more than just lip service, or an HR box checked—they're a concept the company truly believes in."

Home lives have been more chaotic than ever for parents since the pandemic began in March, and Alexis feels that this unprecedented time in our country's history is further proof that more needs to be done to support families. Equal paid family leave is just one of the things that could help, but as it stands, "the U.S. is the only industrialized country that doesn't provide some form of paid family leave. It's time to change that."

Alexis wrote: "Harvard University also found that nearly 70% of fathers across America feel closer to their children now than they did pre-pandemic. These are positive changes that we need to carry with us as we move forward. We can no longer go 'back to normal'; instead, we need to use this time to take an inventory of broken systems and get to work on fixing them."