After the birth of his daughter, Max, in late November, Mark Zuckerberg has acted like most new dads on Facebook: He has shared photos of his new family, commented on the joy of parenthood, and even posted a picture of little Max in a Star Wars–themed costume. But unlike most new fathers in the United States, the Facebook CEO had the opportunity to enjoy fatherhood from home, while he’s off on a two-month leave from work.
Like most leading Silicon Valley companies, Facebook offers a generous parental leave policy, which allows new parents, both female and male, to take up to four months paid time off after the birth of a child. This is far beyond the national average.
In fact, the United States’s embarrassing federal parental leave policy mandates zero paid time off to new mothers and fathers. And the few businesses that do offer the benefit are in the minority. A report by the Society for Human Resource Management, found that only 21 percent of polled organizations offered paid maternity leave, and only 17 percent of them offered paid paternity leave.
There are a number of reasons why extending paternity leave policies would benefit both working fathers and mothers. For starters, studies have proven that dads who take time off are more involved in their children’s lives in the long run than those who don’t. Also, men who stay home during those first few sleep-deprived and exhaustive months help reduce the woman’s potential to suffer from postpartum depression. Extending the benefit of paid time off to both men and women might also help fight gender imbalances in the office. If both men and women were eligible to take equal leave, the burden of putting a pause on a career would no longer fall solely on the shoulders of women.
But unless a man works for a tech company like Facebook or Netflix (the streaming company recently announced their decision to offer unlimited parental time off for the first year), most corporations only provide a very limited amount of paid time off for new dads (most receive two weeks or less). And even then, a number of men decide against using all of it due to fear of hurting their careers or being chastised by their colleagues. Less than two years ago, New York Mets baseball player Daniel Murphy was criticized by fans and sports reporters after he took three days off and missed two games of the season to take care of his newborn son. In Glamour’s June 2015 issue, TOMS Shoes CEO Blake Mycoskie said that after he announced he was taking 12 weeks off to take care of his son, he was faced by incredulous questions from his CEO peers like, “How are you supposed to lead a company while changing diapers?”
Josh Levs, author of the book All In: How Our Work-First Culture Fails Dads, Families and, Businesses—And How We Can Fix It Together, believes that while policies and laws, of course, need to be changed first, the biggest hurdle for new dads is the remaining gender stigmas in the workplace. “[I’ve heard] so many stories of men who took time off and were punished for it,” he said. “They were demoted or even fired for breaking from that macho norm.” Levs became an advocate for parental paid leave after he sued his former employer, CNN and Turner Broadcasting, claiming that the company discriminated against biological fathers. While CNN at the time offered mothers, adoptive parents, and same-sex partners the ability to take up to 10 weeks of paid leave after the birth, adoption, or surrogate birth of a baby, it only offered biological dads a two-week leave. “It was because there was no way I could be considered a primary caregiver,” Levs explained. “Our laws and policies are totally caught up in the past.” He eventually settled with the company. As of last year, CNN and Turner Broadcasting now grants all employees the opportunity to receive six weeks of paid leave, plus six more for biological mothers and more if there are medical issues.
But even after a company ups their parental leave policy, there’s no way to guarantee men will actually take it. “Within that sliver of America, where there’s any paid paternity leave available, the vast majority goes unused,” explained Levs. Most new fathers are weary of taking time off when their colleagues and especially their bosses are forfeiting the benefit. For example, Yahoo CEO Marissa Mayer might have set an impossible standard after she took only two weeks off after the birth of her twin girls, even though Yahoo actually offers mothers 16 and fathers eight. (Mayer’s decision to take two weeks could be seen as a subtle indicator to her peers that she’s just like one of the boys in the predominately male tech industry.) “The environment of a company, the culture [of it] is set always top down,” said Levs. “The way to counteract these stigmas has to come from top executives actually taking leave.”
Recently, a number of high-powered male executives are doing their part to change the antiquated notions of paternity leave. In 2013, Facebook’s VP of search, Tom Stocky, shared a post on Facebook detailing his four-month parental leave. “It’s with mixed emotions that I go back to office work tomorrow. I love that job, so I’m excited to get back into it, and I’m curious to see if any elements of people’s career concerns about my 4-month absence have played out at all,” he wrote. (So far, it seems like the VP’s career has remained intact.) In Glamour, TOMS’s Mycoskie admitted, “Little did I know just how much I’d grow—as a dad, a husband, and an executive—in those three short months.” Now with his very public two-month leave, Mark Zuckerberg has become the latest to set an example within his company and with the more than 47 million people who currently follow him on Facebook. By sharing photos of himself changing diapers, Zuckerberg is doing his part to update the traditional image of working fathers. He’s also compelling his followers to change stereotypes, too. Earlier this week, a Facebook user wrote on the CEO’s page that she always told her granddaughters to date a nerd because, “he may turn out to be a Mark Zuckerberg.” To which he replied: “Even better would be to encourage them to *be* the nerd.” With Zuckerberg dressing his daughter in a Jedi costume and reading her books on quantum physics at bedtime that process already seems to be underway.
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