It was just few days ago when Mark Zuckerberg announced that he will take two months of paternity leave after the birth of his first daughter. The floods opened: he can because he is a multi millionaire, he can as he is the owner of the company, he is showing off. Everyone seems to have an opinion about his choice.
Rewind few weeks back and we get the announcement that Marissa Mayer, CEO of Yahoo!, is going to take two weeks of maternity leave. The floods opened: it is irresponsible to go back to work so soon after giving birth, she is stigmatizing other women for taking longer maternity leave. Again, a lot of people have an opinion about her choice.
If we swapped the statement and if Mark Zuckerberg stated that he was going to take two weeks of paternity leave and Marissa Meyer two months of maternity leave it would have been OK. But OK for whom?
The choices of these senior managers show that the paradigm of maternity and paternity leave is shifting towards a new one.
In the “old” business world women took time off to look after the children: more often than not were discriminated for daring to have children and, if they decided to come back to work, was usually in low paid, part-time, dead end jobs. Read: mom = less committed.
On the other hand, fathers were the breadwinners and had to avoid taking time off, even after the birth of their child (I remember working with a consultant of a strategy firm that eagerly stated he did not attend the birth of his first son as he had to finish a project. I am not sure how the relationship with his partner proceeded from there). There was also a lot of stigma towards fathers that were taking statutory paternity leave.
Nowadays, little by little, the business culture is changing. There is still the hardcore mentality that the mother has to take maternity leave and that will not be as committed as before the child was born (I wonder how many of the people that make this statement have actually tried to manage a household with children, the skills parents develop are remarkable and very useful in business) and that the father has to play the role of the breadwinner.
This is not the only way: many western countries are looking into different solutions of allowing parents to take time off to look after their children. In some cases they allow fathers to swap time off with the mother: for example if the statutory leave is 6 months, the mother can take 2 months and the father can take the remaining 4 months.
This poses new challenges for the companies as it is not only the female employees that may decide to take maternity leave, but also the fathers may decide to take paternity leave and to extend it for more than two days or two weeks. Companies also have to think about paternity leave for same sex couples that decide to have children via surrogacy and adoption.
The changes that are taking place in many legislations are a reflection of the changes in society and are finally are recognising that there is not only a model of family, but there are many. Certain sectors like technology seem to be more attuned to these changes (probably because they attract more millennials that have more interest in a balance between their work and family life than the previous generation X and the baby boomers). Other sectors – and countries – are lagging, behind, but the new path is taking shape.
What is your company doing to deal with the changes in parental leave?
PS: Congratulations to Mark Zuckerberg and Marissa Mayer for their babies, regardless how much time off for parental leave they decide to take.