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  • Writer's pictureScott Behson

Yahoo!, Marissa Mayer, Paternity Leave and a Step Forward

Marissa Mayer announced a progressive paternity leave policy at Yahoo! Especially considering recent Yahoo! decisions, these policies represent an important step forward for working dads everywhere.

Yahoo's paternity leave policy is a step forward (and somewhat makes up for Mayer's earlier telework decision)

Yahoo’s paternity leave policy is a step forward (and somewhat makes up for Mayer’s earlier telework decision)

Fair or not, when Yahoo! hired Marissa Mayer as their CEO, Mayer had to know that her status as a thirty-something first-of-her-generation new mother female CEO would attract a lot of attention, and that many would look past her impressive qualifications (degrees from Stanford, a staggeringly productive career and rise up the ranks at Google), and focus instead on the symbolic nature of her position- especially when it came to work and family considerations.

The early returns on that front, well let’s just say, were not so good.

Upon reflection, I ultimately found the ban as unnecessary and largely beside the point– all downside and no upside. Less than 2% of Yahoo employees worked primarily from home, and while the ban targeted them, the many other productive Yahoo! employees who relied on part-time and ad-hoc telecommuting for work-life balance were equally punished. Worse, the whole flap may have resulted in a chilling effect on workplace flexibility beyond Yahoo’s offices.

The decision caused a media firestorm (lots of smart businesspeople, writers and academics- see here and here– largely agreed with me. Some contrarians did not) that served to raise the issues of work-life balance and workplace flexibility- and, as I stated on NPR’s Morning EditionI welcome any debate on these topics as the more one looks into them, the clearer the business case for them becomes.

I stand by everything I wrote about Yahoo! and Mayer. And, today, I am more than happy to give credit where credit is due. Mayer and Yahoo! recently announced the following policies:

  1. A doubling of paid maternity leave from 8 weeks to 16 weeks

  2. Offering 8 weeks paid paternity leave to new dads

  3. A gift of $500 to help the new parents with new baby expenses

While I do question why maternity and paternity leave are not put on equal footing, let’s leave this aside for another day. I’d like to focus on the positive. And there’s a lot here to like.

As Nanette Fondas (who is awesome, you should follow her), writes in her Atlantic article:

The new Yahoo policy holds potential not only to change a father’s behavior during the eight weeks he spends with the baby while on paternity leave, but also to inch the country toward parity between the sexes in parenting.

The explicit mention of paternity leave is consistent with other efforts to make paternity leave more socially acceptable. As Catherine Rampell states in her NY Times Magazine feature:

[Paternity Leave] still has a stigma in both the United States and Europe. To remedy this bad rap, countries like Sweden and Norway have recently introduced a quota of paid parental leave available only to fathers. If dads don’t take it, they’re leaving money on the table. In Germany and Portugal, moms get bonus weeks of maternity leave if their husbands take a minimum amount of paternity leave. All these countries have seen gigantic increases in the share of fathers who go on leave.

And we really do need societal expectations to change. According to the Boston College Center for Work and Family’s “New Dads” study (which I’ve written about here and here), a vanishingly small percentage of fathers take a paternity leave upon the birth of their children. Instead, new dads cobble together a short leave using vacation, personal and sick days. From the study:

75% of our sample took off one week or less and 16% did not take any time off at all following the birth of their most recent child. While government and corporate policies (or lack of policies) often make if difficult and financially challenging for fathers to spend any significant time off with their newborn children, it is nonetheless a clear opportunity missed for the fathers to spend time bonding with their new offspring and caring for their needs
From the "New Dads" study. Dads don't get (or take) enough paternity leave

From the “New Dads” study. Dads don’t get (or take) enough paternity leave

This lack of real and perceived ability to take paternity leave is at odds with a male workforce that is increasingly involved at home, and aspires to be even more involved going forward. The New Dads study found:

  1. 70% of working dads, when asked about their family lives, stated their family role was to be both caretaker and provider (as opposed to less than 10% who chose only one role or the other), and 65% agreed that both parents should equally share caregiving responsibilities.

  2. While the majority of respondents said they spent between 2.5 and 4 hours per day with their children (significant progress from past generations), only 31% reported they met their stated standard of equal caregiving.

Societal and corporate support for paternity leave would go a long way to helping today’s involved working dad be there for his family. And, of course, we all benefit from having more involved fathers.

Culture changes slowly, as an accumulation of small decisions. I am very glad that Yahoo! (like Major League Baseball, as I wrote about last month) is taking a visible step forward to changing our culture. And, as I stated before, I welcome any discussion on the topics for work-family balance and workplace flexibility (especially for dads), as the more one looks into them, the clearer the business case for them becomes.

So, at least for today, I do Yahoo!

What do you think about Yahoo’s decision? about paternity leave? Any experiences to share? Let’s discuss in the comments section.

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When I first heard the news of yahoo’s paternity leave policy, I couldn’t help but think of Harry and Lloyd from Dumb and Dumber. Enjoy:

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