Alexis Ohanian, co-founder of Reddit, sets a pretty high bar for being a good husband and dad: He routinely shows up to support his wife, tennis star Serena Williams, at her matches; and, as his Instagram account shows, he’s a doting father to their young daughter, Olympia. In a recent New York Times op-ed, he explained that taking paternity leave was essential for forming a bond with Olympia and also caring for Serena, who experienced life-threatening complications during her pregnancy. Yet according to a 2014 study, over three quarters of dads are back at work within a week after having a baby. Ohanian wants to change that.
“I’m grateful that I was never forced to choose between my family and my job,” he wrote.
But a lot of men do face that difficult choice. According to a study from PL+US, a paid-leave advocacy group, 84 percent of expectant fathers plan on taking parental leave, but only half feel their employer supports them in doing so. It’s easy to see why: The National Partnership for Women & Families reports that only nine percent of work sites in the U.S. offer paid paternity leave to all male employees. Even men who could take paternity leave often don’t because of stigma around leaving the workplace for an extended time, Ohanian pointed out during an NPR interview over the weekend.
“I think that that stigma remains until enough of us—and then I do mean in particular like male executives—can lead by example,” he told NPR. “We can take this time, be away from the office, be there for our families and still be just as driven, still be just as motivated, and not have it be perceived as a weakness.”
That was a big reason why Ohanian chose to take the full 16 weeks offered by Reddit at the time of his daughter’s birth.
“I wanted to give cover for everyone—men and women—to take full advantage of the policy,” he said.
In his op-ed, Ohanian points out that the benefits of paternity leave have continued long after he returned to work. Before the birth of his daughter, he’d never even held a baby. That time with his wife and child “gave me confidence that I could figure this whole parenting thing out,” he wrote. It also helped him ease into a new rhythm of child care and shared parental responsibilities, like changing diapers and doing his daughter’s hair. Now that stuff is second nature to him.
In Ohanian’s view, taking leave isn’t just the right move for men and their families, it’s good for their companies, too. By giving employees time to bond with their children and spouses, they’re more likely to be happy and focused at the office, rather than stressed about getting enough time with their kids.
“I think that dynamic really supports the families and lets these employees, when they’re in the office, actually do their best work,” he told NPR.
Ohanian is using his experience with paternity leave to advocate for a federal law mandating paid leave for birth parents, adoptive parents, and caregivers. And if your company does offer paid paternity leave, make sure you take advantage of it, Ohanian writes.
“Talk to your bosses and tell them I sent you.”