BUSINESS

Why Mark Zuckerberg's Paternity Leave Is A Win For Women

A hoodie-wearing billionaire could actually change the way we think about working mothers and fathers.
Mark Zuckerberg, chief executive officer and founder of Facebook Inc., right, and his wife Priscilla Chan arrive at a state d
Mark Zuckerberg, chief executive officer and founder of Facebook Inc., right, and his wife Priscilla Chan arrive at a state dinner in honor of Chinese President Xi Jinping at the White House in Washington, D.C., U.S., on Friday, Sept. 25, 2015

Hoodie-wearing Facebook founder and chief executive Mark Zuckerberg announced recently that he’ll take time off -- two whole months! -- after his wife Priscilla Chan has their first baby.

This is a big deal for working men both at Facebook and in the U.S. (and their families). Guys here rarely take paternity leave -- few companies even bother offering it. For the chief executive of a Fortune 100 company to take leave, is just unheard of.

Zuckerberg’s move signals that it’s OK for men to prioritize family over their jobs -- at least for a hot second when you have a brand-new infant at home. There’s a good chance he’ll inspire other fathers to take time off.

And that is amazing news for women -- that’s right, women -- who face serious penalties and discrimination at work for becoming mothers. When men take paternity leave, it is a signal that juggling work and family isn’t just “lady business,” it promotes real understanding and empathy between the sexes at work and goes a long way in eliminating outdated, useless stereotypes that harm everyone.

It fosters a different sense of cooperation when the women and men are both taking leave and understanding what it’s like to have newborns at home,” Nancy Altobello, the vice chair for talent at the consulting firm EY, told The Huffington Post this summer while explaining why the firm encourages fathers to take paternity leave.

Working women and men are both up against certain stereotypes and expectations when they become parents. For men, this mostly works in their favor on the job and hurts them at home. Women, well, they’re just screwed either way.

Priscilla and I are starting to get ready for our daughter's arrival. We've been picking out our favorite childhood...

Posted by Mark Zuckerberg on Friday, November 20, 2015

There’s a cultural expectation that a good father prioritizes his job because he is the breadwinner -- indeed, fathers often make more money after having kids, studies have found.

And despite the fact that women are the sole or primary breadwinner in 40 percent of U.S. households with children, it’s assumed they’ll prioritize family over work and, as a result, become less reliable and less hard-working.

“Mothers are less likely to be hired for jobs, to be perceived as competent at work or to be paid as much as their male colleagues with the same qualifications,” Claire Cain Miller explained last year in the New York Times, citing an extensive 15-year study that showed women’s pay decreased 4 percent for each child they had. Men’s pay increased more than 6 percent after having kids.

Some research has found that the pay gap between mothers and non-mothers is wider than between men and women. 

If a woman signals that work is her priority -- over her children -- she runs into problems. She’s judged extremely harshly for being a terrible mother.

Yahoo CEO Marissa Mayer has been criticized for taking too little maternity leave and also for not being devoted enough to he
Yahoo CEO Marissa Mayer has been criticized for taking too little maternity leave and also for not being devoted enough to her job.

“Women are fundamentally [supposed to be] oriented to the family not to work," Robin Ely, a professor at Harvard Business School, who studies gender expectations at work, explained to HuffPost a few months ago. “The expectation is if you don’t do it, then you’re not a good mother.”

When Yahoo CEO Marissa Mayer announced this fall that she’d only be gone a couple of weeks after she gives birth to twins in December, critics pounced. “Marissa Mayer’s Two-Week Maternity Leave Is Bullsh*t,” was the Daily Beast's headline. There were similar hot takes all around the internet.

Referring to Mayer’s two-week maternity leave stint in 2012 after she had just landed at Yahoo, the Telegraph summed up her double-bind pretty well: "Her 14-day maternity leave caused many to question her priorities as a parent. Others cast doubt on her dedication to her career."

Who's that? Oh, just a billionaire in a sweatshirt advancing the cause for women everywhere.
Who's that? Oh, just a billionaire in a sweatshirt advancing the cause for women everywhere.

Men face a different challenge: one that's become more problematic as more young dads of Zuckerberg's generation actively want to be more involved parents. These men run into problems because guys are often stigmatized or penalized if they demonstrate that work isn’t their top priority.

“The idea of a guy taking paternity leave was just [makes face] for my managers. Guys just don’t do that. They teased me," one consultant at a prominent firm told researchers from Boston University in a recent study.  "Then one of the partners said to me, ‘You have a choice to make: Are you going to be a professional or are you going to just be an average person in your field? If you are going to be a professional then that means nothing can be as important to you as your work.'"

Tell that to his little baby. Men who take paternity leave set themselves up to be more involved parents for that child's entire life. Seems important, yah? Oh, and fathers who are more involved at home certainly make life easier for their partners. Too often it's working women who wind up taking on more of the parenting work in dual-income couples.

Paternity leave is a really powerful lever in changing these outdated paradigms. In Sweden, which provides paid time off for fathers, women’s earning potential rises 7 percent on average for every month a dad takes off. 

Some enlightened employers are recognizing this -- including Facebook, Spotify and Netflix -- and treat parental leave in a gender neutral way, offering equal amounts to men and women.

Facebook offers four months leave to dads -- but most do like Zuckerberg and only take two.

There’s still a long road till we get to equality. 

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