Calling All Dads: Facebook Sets The Tone For Paternity Leave

Not that weird, folks.

Not that weird, folks.

If women are socialized to believe that it’s their “job” to stay at home with newborns, there’s little suggesting that men be involved in that process, as male caregivers are often treated like a dog walking on its hind legs. 

Taking time off to support your wife after she gives birth isn’t just good for new mothers who need a little extra help around the house — it’s good for everyone.

That’s what Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg argued in a recent statement announcing his decision to take two months of paternity leave. In July, Zuckerberg announced that he and his wife, Priscilla Chan, are expecting their first child, following an earlier miscarriage. “Studies show that when working parents take time to be with their newborns, outcomes are better for the children and families,” Zuckerberg wrote in a Facebook post. “At Facebook, we offer our U.S. employees up to four months of paid maternity or paternity leave which they can take throughout the year.”

Facebook is just one of a number of Silicon Valley firms offering paid leave to workers — whether that’s maternity or paternity. In particular, companies like Twitter and Google allow new fathers 10 and 12 weeks of time off, while Adobe gives dads a comparatively massive 16 weeks — almost four months. But outside of Palo Alto and Mountain View, these allowances are far from the norm in the US. While Family and Medical Leave Act grants women up to 12 weeks of leave after giving birth, that’s unpaid. Only 16% of companies offer paid benefits to female employees expecting a child, and for men, it’s even less — just 13% of new dads can take time off and hope to get paid for it.

This means that many women can’t afford to stay home or that husbands are forced back into the workplace almost immediately — which negatively impacts male employees, their families, and businesses themselves. As Zuckerberg himself pointed out, the hard choices fathers have to make put a disproportionate burden on stay-at-home caregivers. Research shows that when men become active parents early in their child’s development, they are more likely to continue to do so throughout their life —getting involved with household work and sharing the daily responsibilities of parenthood.

If women are interested in solving the work-life balance problem, clearly that means encouraging men to find equilibrium. After all, it’s not just that men don’t have time to take off but that many who are offered the resources to don’t. According to Forbes, 69% of female employees utilize paid maternity leave benefits — while just 12% of men exercise the option. For many men, this is likely due to stigma, both around taking time off and childcare itself. Men might feel that they’ll lose out on promotions by taking leave or be seen as less of a “team player.”

If women are socialized to believe that it’s their “job” to stay at home with newborns, there’s little suggesting that men be involved in that process, as male caregivers are often treated like a dog walking on its hind legs. Movies like Mr. Mom, Three Men and a Baby, and Daddy Day Care have long depicted men as clueless brutes unprepared for the responsibilities of raising children, an awful stereotype that harms women as much as it does men. Statistics from Japan showed that 70% of women drop out of the workforce altogether after giving birth — and who can blame them? Throughout their entire lives, these women have been constantly told that no one else can fill that caregiver role for them.

As Gwynn Guilford argued in Quartz, there’s a reason that “in most developed countries, the biggest base of unemployed workers is women.” Countries like the United States expect women to automatically provide the unpaid labor of motherhood. The fact that being a parent is a job in itself goes too often unrecognized, but other nations are leading the way in changing those norms. Sweden, Germany, and Canada all offer federally mandated paternity leave benefits that would put even Adobe to shame—respectively allowing male employees 480, 365, and 245 paid days off.

These countries have recognized that quality leave programs are part of doing good business in a modern economy. In the Atlantic, Liza Mundy argued that fighting female underemployment should be a priority of a growing labor force: “[C]ountries with the strongest economies are those that have found ways to further women’s careers, close the gender pay gap, and keep women—who in most nations are now better educated than men—tethered to the workforce after they become mothers.”

She also argued that paternity leave helps this problem by spreading the stigma of parenthood around in the workplace — instead of viewing potential female hires as ticking womb bombs, encouraging male caregiving will stop us from automatically assuming that women will be the ones to remain at home and stop punishing them it. After all, it’s not just that many companies don’t offer benefits to mothers, it's that many firms tiptoe around the need to do so by avoiding hiring them at all. Statistics from the Guardian found that 40% of hiring managers are “generally wary of hiring a woman of childbearing age, while a similar number would be wary of hiring a woman who has already had a child or hiring a mother for a senior role.”

Thus, one of the most important things that men themselves can do to encourage participation in the workforce among women is to “lean out,” taking time off to share in the joys and the burdens of parenthood, but also demand healthy policies that allow both men and women those opportunities. While women have been speaking up about these issues for decades (after all, the Family Leave Act debuted in 1993), male employees should follow Mark Zuckerberg’s lead by making their voices heard in the workplace and ensuring that their decisions help make a difference for men and women.

Three states (California, New Jersey, and Rhode Island) and DC have stepped up by offering paid leave, and it’s time for all of us to demand that the other 47 do the same.

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