Work-life. Balance.

America needs Paid Family Leave. Fathers need to use it.

Alexis Ohanian
Jun 16, 2019 · 9 min read
Image for post
Image for post
Serena Williams & Alexis Ohanian, photographed by Garry Tan at a private initialized event

Serena only saw me on weekends for the first eight months of her pregnancy. I missed a lot of doctor’s appointments because I was deep in my third year back at Reddit in the midst of a big turnaround project that started in 2014. She was in Florida. I had to be everywhere else: San Francisco, New York, Los Angeles — anywhere our biggest clients were. I was fighting alongside our sales, communications, and business development teams to win deals and restore Reddit’s brand. I felt terrible about it. She never gave me a hard time, but I know it was frustrating for her.

We were both relieved when I took off a few weeks before Alexis Olympia Ohanian Jr. was due. I dropped by CNBC to do some press just beforehand and was impromptu asked by Becky Quick about whether I’d be taking time off and I proudly said I would be. I said I was doing it selfishly, because I knew this was going to be an important time in my family’s life and I wanted all my employees (and industry) to see that it mattered, even for a career-driven entrepreneur.

I had no idea how grateful I would be for our policy, or my ability to make full use of it. Years before I was anxiously sitting in that delivery room, Reddit’s vice president of people and culture, Katelin Holloway, sat down and reviewed her plan with me for our Paid Family Leave policy at Reddit. I don’t remember anything in particular about the meeting other than it all sounded reasonable. Now I can’t imagine anyone having a child without it.

The birth of our daughter nearly killed Serena. When she was released a few days later, there was still an open wound from the C-section that needed to be repacked with fresh gauze every day for the next few weeks as she recovered.

With every advantage imaginable — money, family support, both of us being our own bosses, and my 16 weeks of Paid Family Leave — it was still a traumatic period in our lives; I couldn’t imagine going through it without having the peace of mind Paid Family Leave provided.

This is unacceptable. We need a federal law to fix the fact that we’re the last developed nation in the world without a Paid Family Leave policy. I wrote about it for the first time in The Hill back in July 2018 and it caused quite a stir. People kept asking me about it. What was next? I’d connected with PL+US, who are leading the fight to get it for all Americans by 2022.

Companies live or die because of the talent they can attract and retain, so this arms race for family benefits is quickly gaining momentum beyond the tech industry. Dove Men+Care stepped up to create a fund to encourage men in particular to step up and take their leave if they’re lucky to have access to it (and even paid them if they didn’t). Last month, Sweetgreen, a fast-casual salad restaurant chain, announced 5 months of paid parental leave, while just last week, Target expanded their family leave benefits, including part-time workers. It’s not a question of if this will become available to all Americans, it’s a question of when.

Rise of the Business Dad

Business men have long separated themselves from their family life, yet we work in order to help support those families; this is an important sense of purpose that the modern workforce is increasingly happy to blend: the Business Dad. Venture capital firms are no exception, so I brought the same Paid Family Leave policy over to Initialized when I returned full-time. Garry and I proudly offer 16 weeks of Paid Family Leave following the birth or adoption of a child.

I’m thrilled to say my co-founder Garry Tan, partner Eric Woersching, and our newest hire, fund controller Robert Lindsey, have all taken Paid Family Leave this spring and summer. Yes, the firm’s co-founder and one of our investing partners are all celebrating this Father’s day on Paid Leave. I encourage all of our new dads to take their full leave, because it de-stigmatizes pregnancy-in-the-workforce for our female colleagues.

In fact, we strongly encourage our portfolio companies to adopt family leave policies that are appropriate for their funding stage and team size; which typically mean having a policy in place once they’ve found some stability post-product-market fit and have raised a Series A.

But in many cases, we see Initialized founders proactively offering paid leave even at the earliest stages. One of our founders, Eli Brown, the CEO of Guilded, had to make a tough hiring decision shortly after raising their seed round — they wanted to hire a candidate who was going to immediately have a child upon joining.

He decided to extend them an offer, and after joining and taking six weeks of Paid Family Leave, they’re still with the company today. In retrospect, he felt that this was the right decision:

“Paid Family Leave is one of those cases where doing the right thing is also the best thing to do for your company,” he said “People do their best work when they feel like their company cares about them, and a company that cares supports people during important events in their lives.”

Another one of our founders, Brandon Rodman, CEO of Weave (initialized 2014), recently shared this email an employee sent him:

I just wanted to say thank you for the blessing it is to work at Weave. I’m especially thankful for the paternity/maternity plan we offer here!

Our new baby girl, Emery, was born May 13th and on May 16th we discovered she had 3 major heart defects. Basically, she was born with half a working heart. Not the easiest way to come into parenthood.

Image for post
Image for post

We were life-flighted to Primary Children’s in SLC and she underwent extensive heart surgery and has been in recovery since today. She is doing awesome and is so strong!

I just don’t know a company who allows the dad to stay home for 6 weeks! Because of that I was able to stay close to her 24/7 and supporting my wife in this hard time. The food delivery, the diapers have been fantastic!

Weave is one of the best things that has happened to me and to my family, and I am so grateful for your vision on “People, not Employees” and always wanting family to be first! I cannot thank you enough!”

Flexibility in particular makes a difference for new dads. A new study by Stanford economists shows that giving fathers flexibility to take time off work in the months after their children are born improves the postpartum health and mental well-being of mothers.

Sadly, of the only 1 in 5 American dads who have access to paid leave, many of them are too nervous to utilize it. According to PL+US research, of the men planning to take leave, only 50% believe their employer supports them and nearly one-third of dads think that taking leave could negatively impact their career. That’s one reason why I’ve been so outspoken and I think this upcoming Father’s Day is a great opportunity to rally around this idea and join us in taking more steps toward real and lasting change.

What Businesses Can Do

Until the government catches up and passes a federal Paid Family Leave policy, it’s on businesses to offer comprehensive, and inclusive Paid Family Leave. We’ve shared Initialized’s family leave policy below so you can copy and paste it, and then hopefully improve upon it. Our friends at PL+US are also willing to do free consulting for you and your company to implement a great Paid Family Leave policy — contact them here and tell them I sent you! They also have many other resources for business leaders on their website that are worth looking into.

What Everyone Can Do

Whether you’re a parent or not, if you value being able to integrate work and family life in a healthy way in this country, there are several things you can do to push policy and the conversation forward. You can recruit other fathers and even write your member of Congress here. We’ll be lobbying them in D.C. this October, backed by hundreds of thousands of you.

If you’re a dad, I encourage you to become a #Dadvocate. Share your story of being a dad — whether you took Paid Family Leave or not — and encourage other dads to do the same. You can find more about the #Dadvocate campaign here.

I’ll leave you with one last tip and it sounds simple but it’s powerful — ask dads about dad things, especially at work. Trust me, do it while you’re making small talk at the fridge; he’ll be happy to answer a question like “Hey, what’s your two-year-old into these days?” (Answer: Olympia loves fish right now, she waves to them while she walks by the long aquarium tanks as if she’s greeting a crowd from her float in a parade). The more we normalize dads just being dads (and not “babysitting” their kids as the tabloids sometimes suggest), the sooner we can shift the culture and ultimately the law.

👶🏻 👶🏼 👶🏽 👶🏾 👶🏿

The Initialized Capital sample Paid Family Leave policy

Eligibility

A full-time exempt employee who has worked for the Company for at least six months and who wishes to: take bonding time with his/her new baby (or newly adopted child Feb. 2018 who is either under 18 years of age or a special needs child); or assist a spouse or domestic partner with pre- or post-natal childcare, may take a paid family leave of up to sixteen consecutive weeks. Leave time under this policy will be paid, subject to the paragraph below. Family leave can begin up to one month prior to the birth (or adoption) of a child, but cannot commence later than eight months after the birth (or adoption) of a child. During family leave, an employee will be paid at the salary rate he or she was paid just prior to the commencement of the leave. An employee planning a family leave should coordinate with his or her manager in advance to determine leave and return dates, and to ensure the smooth transition of duties.

Coordination with State Benefits

“Paid Family Leave” (PFL) is a component of California’s state disability insurance program (SDI). Employees covered by SDI are also eligible for PFL, meaning they can receive a benefit from the state of up to six weeks of salary. The Company requires that an employee taking paid family leave apply for the California state PFL benefit in advance of taking family leave, and as such, will not pay the employee for the first six weeks of family leave (unless such employee is not eligible for the full PFL benefit, for reasons that are not the fault of such employee). Employees are advised to consult with the Head of Finance well in advance of taking a paid family leave, to ensure that PFL benefits can be properly claimed.

Benefit Plans

The Company will continue to pay for the employee’s participation in the Company’s group health plans to the same extent and under the same terms and conditions as would apply had the employee not taken family leave, up to a maximum of 16 weeks per family leave.

Return to Work

An Employee returning from paid family leave will be reinstated to the same position he or she held prior to the leave, unless the position no longer exists for reasons unrelated to the leave. In such a situation, an employee will be reinstated to a similar position with similar pay and benefits. Failure to return to work or request an extension of leave time at the conclusion of the leave may result in the loss of reemployment rights, unless the reason for the employee’s inability to return is legally protected.

Initialized Capital

Stories and thoughts on early-stage entrepreneurship from a…

Thanks to Danielle Fuerth and Dani Metz Shuval

Alexis Ohanian

Written by

Son of an undocumented immigrant. Business Dad. Founder & investor. Working on something new 👀

Initialized Capital

Stories and thoughts on early-stage entrepreneurship from a venture capital firm. We fund and help startups with their first check. https://initialized.com/our-startups

Alexis Ohanian

Written by

Son of an undocumented immigrant. Business Dad. Founder & investor. Working on something new 👀

Initialized Capital

Stories and thoughts on early-stage entrepreneurship from a venture capital firm. We fund and help startups with their first check. https://initialized.com/our-startups

Medium is an open platform where 170 million readers come to find insightful and dynamic thinking. Here, expert and undiscovered voices alike dive into the heart of any topic and bring new ideas to the surface. Learn more

Follow the writers, publications, and topics that matter to you, and you’ll see them on your homepage and in your inbox. Explore

If you have a story to tell, knowledge to share, or a perspective to offer — welcome home. It’s easy and free to post your thinking on any topic. Write on Medium

Get the Medium app

A button that says 'Download on the App Store', and if clicked it will lead you to the iOS App store
A button that says 'Get it on, Google Play', and if clicked it will lead you to the Google Play store