Reddit co-founder pushes hard for paternity leave

NEW YORK (AP) — Alexis Ohanian wants other guys to be jealous of him. Not because he’s a multimillionaire venture capitalist. Or because he’s married to tennis pro Serena Williams. The Reddit co-founder wants men to covet the time he gets to spend with his one-year-old daughter, Olympia.

The pair is all over Instagram cheering for mom at her tennis matches, make silly faces with Mickey Mouse ears and toting around favourite doll Qai Qai, who has her own Instagram account with 114,000 followers.

It’s all part of his advocacy for making paid paternity leave the new normal in America. When Olympia was born on September 1, 2017, Ohanian was very public about taking the full 16 weeks of paid leave available to him at Initialised Capital, the venture capital firm he co-founded and now runs.

He wants all men in the United States (US) to have that option, especially those without his privileges and resources. That includes advocating both for companies to adopt more generous family leave policies and encouraging men to take time off without fear of being stigmatised as uncommitted to their work.

“After coming back, I started hearing from Silicon Valley founders, from employees, who all said the same thing, which was that they appreciated this kind of air cover,” Ohanian said in interview with The Associated Press. “Because it meant that there was clear sign from someone who was very ambitious, very career-driven, very goal oriented, and yet I made this a priority.”

Alexis Ohanian, founder of the social media company Reddit, poses for a photo with his daughter Olympia. – AP

Ohanian, 35, was in New York this week to launch a two-pronged Dove Men+Care initiative to champion paternity leave. The Unilever-owned brand started a USD1 million fund for fathers with no access to paid leave through their employers. Employees who only get unpaid leave, freelancers and self-employed men are encouraged to apply for a USD5,000 grant. The other initiative is a ‘Pledge for Paternity Leave’,”asking men to commit to taking their full leave and share their experience. It asks business leaders to pledge to enact paid paternity leave policies.

The US is the only industrialised country that does not federally mandate paid parental leave.

Under the Family and Medical Leave Act, many, but not all, employees are entitled to 12 weeks of unpaid leave following the birth or adoption of a child without penalty of losing their positions. It is up to employers whether to offer paid leave.

But it’s a good time to be fighting for paid leave in the US.

High-profile companies, fighting for talent in a tight job market, are trying to outdo each other in expanding leave for mothers and non-birth parents, with some throwing in unique perks.

Amazon, for instance, pays for the spouses of employees to take time off. Global tech company Cisco System offers three days of paid time off for grandparents. Netflix allows parents to take off as much time as they want during the baby’s first year.

The prevalence of employers offering paid paternity leave rose to 29 per cent in 2018 from 21 per cent two years earlier, according to a report by the Society for Human Resources Management, which polled a randomly selected sample of its 285,000 HR professional members.