Hey Male CEOs, It’s Your Turn to Take Parental Leave
Female chief executives face far more scrutiny over certain decisions than men do. Search for Yahoo CEO Marissa Mayer or YouTube CEO Susan Wojcicki’s names with “maternity leave” and you’ll see dozens of stories about the choices they’ve made as new parents. There’s an inherent sexism in the unequal scrutiny and imposed expectations that we, the public and the press, put on female CEOs when it comes to parental leave and children.
But what about male ones? Google Larry Ellison, Sergey Brin, Elon Musk, or, well, pretty much any current or former top male tech exec and “paternity leave” and see what you get. What would happen if the male CEO of a major public tech company said he was taking several months off after the birth or adoption of a child? And what if that executive were, say, someone like Mark Zuckerberg who recently announced his wife is expecting, and whose company has championed expansive benefits for parents?
Tech companies are increasingly offering generous paid leave benefits to new moms and dads to attract top talent.
Netflix recently announced it will offer its salaried streaming employees up to a year of paid parental leave. Accenture, Adobe, and Microsoft all followed suit with expanded benefits for new moms and dads. And other tech giants, particularly Google and Facebook, have long touted their benefits for new parents, which include not only time off but cash bonuses and help accessing daycare.
For new parents in the tech industry, these policies sound promising. As major companies compete for the best talent, family-friendly benefits seem to be the latest way to entice a diverse range of employees, especially millennials looking to balance their work and family lives.
But, as we reported last month, parental leave benefits only make a difference to the extent that employees feel confident they can take advantage of them. It’s understandable workers might worry that, whatever the official policy, taking time off could put their standing on the job and future opportunities at risk.
Researchers say that a crucial step in allaying those fears is setting the example from the top: executives and managers must lead by example, embracing a company’s policy to show employees that it isn’t just for show (or for hiring). But it isn’t always so easy to do as to say. Taking time off is a personal choice—and some people, well, love to work. CEOs also face heightened scrutiny from shareholders, board members, and the public.
“That is part of what’s needed to advance this social movement,” says Stew Friedman, Director of the Wharton Work/Life Integration Project. “For high level executives in high profile companies to say, ‘Look, this is part of life. There are ways of organizing your time over the course of your life that allow you to invest in the things that matter to you at different points in life. We want to support that.’”
Tired, Distracted, Guilty
Research has shown that parental leave significantly benefits not just women—and companies—but men as well. Dads who take extended time off are more likely to play an active role in child care and have higher satisfaction with parenting. And yet, according to a Department of Labor’s policy brief on the issue, the 70 percent of U.S. dads who do take paternity leave take ten days off or less.
It’s not completely unheard of for top male execs to take parental leave. Etsy CEO Chad Dickerson, for example, has said he took 9 weeks off when he adopted his son a few years ago. Facebook’s vice president of search, Tom Stocky, embraced the company’s policy in 2013, taking four months off and writing a widely read Facebook post about his experience. And, the founder and chief executive of Toms Shoes, Blake Mycoskie has spoken publicly about his decision to take 12 weeks of parental leave when his son was born.
“If a dad doesn’t take it or isn’t offered it, he’s tired. He’s distracted. He’s probably making bad decisions for the business, and he’s feeling guilty he’s not at home,” Mycoskie said on CNN last week.
But Dickserson said last year that to his dismay some male leaders he’s spoken to have “actually bragged about how little time they took off” when their child was born. It seems that many male CEOs don’t choose to take significant time off, or at least aren’t public about their decision to do so. And, either way, they don’t get scrutinized by the press for their decisions, like some female CEOs do.
“We don’t fault male CEOs for being poor role models in taking on diversity or women’s issues,” says Joan Williams, the director of the University of California, Hastings Center for WorkLife Law. “Clearly, it’s a case of double standards.”
A Family Revolution
In the workplace, double standards can play a role in the behavior of new moms and dads, too, even when they aren’t leaders in the company. Both women and men may not be able to afford to take unpaid time off as is protected by the U.S. Family and Medical Leave Act. But even in companies where paid leave is offered, men often choose not to take the full time off for fear of seeming uncommitted to their jobs.
Williams believes, however, that this is now beginning to change with new expectations from millennials that men and women should—and should be able to—share responsibilities at home. “There’s been a huge shift in the past ten years and now younger men see being a good dad as being involved in the daily care of their children,” Williams say. “That’s a revolution.”
But in order to allay any fears from men—or women—about taking time off, the culture of a company still matters. “We need senior men to say, ‘This is important to me and my organization’,” says Anne Weisberg, senior vice president of the nonprofit Families and Work Institute. “We need senior men to say, ‘We believe in parental leave,’ to make it not just a women’s issue—to make it an issue of working families, because that’s what it is.”
So, what would happen if someone like Mark Zuckerberg publicly announced he would take Facebook’s four months of parental leave? Friedman laughs, “It would be awesome.” A Facebook spokeswoman says the company has not yet shared Zuckerberg’s plans.
Originally posted here: