History has recognized Reddit co-founder and venture capitalist Alexis Ohanian as a key player in the evolution of the internet and years from now it might recognize him as a key player in the evolution of paid parental leave in America. Since taking leave after the birth of his daughter, Olympia, Ohanian has been repeatedly telling the world that, of all the impressive things he's done in his life, taking the time to be with his newborn daughter and support his wife, Serena Williams, was one of the most important decisions he's ever made.
That's why Ohanian joined fellow fathers, with the support of Dove Men+Care and the non-profit Paid Leave US (PL+US), on Capitol Hill this month to press lawmakers for change. He wants all fathers to be able to do what he did and for paternity leave to be normalized in the American workplace. Ohanian met with Senators and Members of Congress and took time to speak with Motherly about why the fight for paid leave is so important.
Here are five reasons Alexis Ohanian is so obsessed with advancing paternity leave:
1. Mothers need not just time to heal, but support to do so
Serena Williams' birth experience was traumatic and required a long recovery period. She was lucky to be alive after suffering a pulmonary embolism after her emergency C-section.
She was also lucky to have a partner who had the privilege of taking leave. "A lot of folks saw a glimpse into this through the HBO documentary. The reality was, after all the complications and a number of surgeries that my wife had including a C-section but then multiple others, there was very little she could do in those first few weeks just physically. And I had to help her with a lot of it," Ohanian tells Motherly.
Williams' birth experience was difficult, but the truth is that recovering from birth (especially a C-section) is generally difficult even under the best of circumstances. It takes time to recover. Mothers need help. And when a mom's partner has to head back to work just a couple of days after it takes a toll physically and mentally.
Research shows that when dads take paternity leave, moms are 14% less likely to be admitted to a hospital for birth-related issues within the first six months of childbirth.
Ohanian was there to change the diapers or pick up his daughter in the middle of the night, actions that helped his wife heal. "[These] were things that I was very willing to take on because it felt like the least I could do for a woman who had already sacrificed so much to just bring her into the world, to bring Olympia into the world," he explains.
2. Dads need time to bond with their babies
When dads get to take parental leave they become more confident parents and are more likely to be equal participants in childcare years later. Ohanian has experienced this firsthand. He tells Motherly he went from having no experience with babies to having a crash course in caring for his daughter. Spending those early weeks with her taught him he was completely capable of overcoming parenting challenges.
"I was quickly learning how to thaw breast milk in the middle of the night, and feed my kid and change her diaper. I got really good at using the Snoo, the smart bed, to help her get back to sleep," he explains. "These are all just things that I was in no way qualified to do but was able to learn and that really gave me the confidence. Now, Olympia is a super active 2-year-old, and it gives me confidence anytime there's some new challenge or new thing. It gives me the confidence to know that I can handle it. And that's a true gift that came from having that paternity leave."
3. Paid parental leave impacts productivity (in a good way)
Ohanian tells Motherly making paid leave available to fathers (and encouraging them to actually take it) is an opportunity for businesses to get more value out of an employee. "When they are back in the office they are going to be more engaged because they're not as worried about the things going on at home with their newborn and their family. They're going to be more productive," he tells Motherly.
Surveys of businesses in states with paid leave laws suggest implementing paid leave has a positive impact on worker productivity and that employers notice workers who take parental leave are less stressed when they come back to work. "There's a growing body of work that just shows this is, from a business standpoint, this is a smart, smart decision," he explains.
4. Fathers want to be more involved than ever before
Ohanian says he is happy to see the men of his generation flipping the script on the bumbling dad trope and talking about how they are just as capable parents as mothers are. "It is like a lazy shtick that has been ingrained in such a big part of the popular culture. But the reality is social media has allowed us to push from the bottom up messages and examples of dads being competent dads," Ohanian says.
Olympia loves her mama, but she's growing up knowing that her dad, too, is fully capable of helping her with whatever she needs. "Admittedly Olympia at this age is basically Serena's shadow. She loves her mom, like adores her, which is great," he explains.
The Reddit co-founder loves to see examples of great fathers on Reddit and in his social media feeds. "That's normalizing behavior that we've never really seen from the top down," he explains.
5. Paid parental leave shouldn't be a privilege—but a right
Ohanian has talked a lot about how lucky he was to be able to take paternity leave in the first place. "It helped that I was a founder and didn't have to worry about what people might say about my 'commitment' to the company," he previously wrote in an essay for Glamour.
He took 16 weeks of parental leave in a country where there is no national paid parental leave plan, but even in countries where parents do have access to paid leave, dads don't take all that they can. As Motherly previously reported, a report from Dove Men+Care and Promundo (a global organization dedicated to gender equality) found 85% of dads surveyed in the United States, the UK, Argentina, Brazil, Canada, Japan and the Netherlands would do anything to be very involved in the early weeks and months after their child's birth or adoption, but less than 50% of fathers take as much time as they are entitled to.
Ohanian wants all fathers in America to have access to paid leave, and wants all fathers who already have access to feel comfortable taking it. In his conversation with Motherly, Ohanian offered this advice to dads to want to take leave but are afraid how their bosses will react:
"Look, if they're one of the few American men who even have the opportunity, (less than one in five men in the US), you're already one of the lucky few. And so I would say, if you're that fortunate to even have the opportunity, absolutely take advantage of it. And if your boss tries to give you any sass, tell him that the guy who created Reddit and runs a half billion dollar early stage venture capital fund felt like he was—not just a worthy business leader—but was better because he took that time off."