Alexis Ohanian: Congress and statehouses need to develop better family leave policies

Alexis Ohanian: Congress and statehouses need to develop better family leave policies
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Before my daughter, Alexis Olympia Ohanian Jr. was born, I considered the companies I co-founded — Reddit and Initialized Capital — my babies. I poured my time, effort, hopes and dreams into both of my companies and nurtured them as I thought a parent would their own child. 

While being an entrepreneur prepared me in a lot of ways for fatherhood, everything changed after Olympia was born. Any dad will tell you that becoming one is a mind-blowing experience.

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For these early months of my daughter’s life, I knew I needed to be present with my family. Those moments of closeness with Olympia, whether it was practicing holding her like a little football or changing a diaper at 3 a.m., were spectacular. 

 

And it was equally important to be there for my wife and to adjust to this new life we created together. Being able to be present with my family was a privilege that unfortunately many parents in this country are not afforded.

As an entrepreneur, I’ve always valued what I call “flow state” where I can be completely focused on a project instead of forced to constantly switch gears and multitask. Through my time on leave, I learned the importance of this in my personal life and do my best to carve out this uninterrupted time with my family as much as I can now that I’m back at work.

My own experience with taking leave has greatly informed the companies I run, invest in, and advise. Reddit and Initialized Capital both have a policy of 16 weeks of fully paid leave for all new parents and we encourage the founders of the companies we invest in to be generous with their policies too, especially as they become more established.

This leave time should also be flexible to allow our people to take care of their families when they need them. Every family is different, and paid leave should be customized for their specific needs. 

Taking all the time off at once may make sense for some families, but for others it may be more helpful to spread the time out to just Tuesdays and Thursdays in order to support a partner going back to work.

This is more than just about doing the right thing — it’s a smart business decision. We employ humans, not robots, and if you’re expecting them to do great work, they need to be in a healthy state of mind.

Whether you’re in the C-suite or just starting out in the workforce, you should be able to prioritize your family when they need you, but right now it’s mostly people in high-paying jobs who have that chance and can afford expensive childcare even if they don’t. Ninety four percent of low wage working people don’t have a single day of paid family leave.

With all the benefits that I’ve seen personally and in my businesses for supporting employees and their families through parenthood and family caregiving, it’s disappointing to see just how far behind U.S. public policy is on these issues. If we are a nation that truly believes the family is the bedrock of our country, it’s time we started acting like it and instituted national paid family leave.

When Serena went back to work after Olympia was born, I worked with one of our portfolio companies at Initialized capital, AdQuick, to put up four billboards celebrating her reentry to the world of tennis.

Every new parent deserves a giant billboard shouting to the world how awesome they are, but most moms don’t even get a paid day off. The U.S. stands alone among industrialized nations in not requiring maternity leave for new moms. As a result, 1 in 4 mothers return to work within two weeks of giving birth. That’s not good for our country, our kids, or our health.

This isn’t just for mothers, though. I look forward to the day when feeding my child in public isn’t a headline—just a dad doing dad things. But the bar is sadly that low. We still celebrate when a man simply acknowledges having a child, let alone doing their part to help raise them, while women in the workplace face a tremendous double standard as they balance supporting their family with their career. It’d be hard to claim I am not a career-focused, high-striving businessman and I still took every day of my leave in order to set a standard within my organization and more broadly in the tech industry. The more men who step up to take parental leave, the better for both our families and for all women in the workforce.

Paid parental and family leave programs are wildly popular with voters — 75 percent of Republicans and 90 percent of Democrats support paid parental leave. For the last four Congressional sessions paid family leave bills have been added to the legislative agenda, and this week the Senate will hold the first hearing in years — notably with serious bipartisan support.

The upcoming midterm elections are our chance to seize the moment and momentum. Candidates up and down the ballot, from both parties, need to start taking the needs of working families seriously, starting with a commitment to passing robust paid family leave policy.

Our families are ready for paid family leave, our companies are ready for paid family leave, and we can make sure our new Congress and statehouses are ready for paid family leave by electing leaders who will deliver high-quality paid family leave policy.

Let’s turn this watershed moment into a flood of transformation for American families.

Alexis Ohanian is the co-founder of Reddit and Initialized Capital, a seed stage venture fund with over $230M under management and a portfolio with $20B in market value. Alexis is also the author of the bestselling book Without Their Permission.