Alexis Ohanian Sr. is many things; the co-founder of Reddit, husband of tennis great Serena Williams, a proud father to their 3-year-old daughter Alexis Olympia Ohanian Jr., and a strong advocate for paid paternity leave. In a recent article he wrote for Fast Company, Ohanian Sr. discussed the significance of paternity leave and why the negative stigma behind it, which is based on outdated, sexist beliefs and attitudes, needs to end.
“While a small fraction of U.S. companies (9%) offer paid paternity leave, the stark reality is that many men don’t take advantage of the opportunity, due to a looming stigma and fear of losing their standing—or, even worse, their job,” wrote Ohanian Sr. “Unfortunately, those fears are not unfounded and that stigma is very real.”
“The implication that paternity leave is unimportant sets a dangerous precedent, one that suggests fathers are not an integral part of the child care unit, and perpetuates the antiquated belief that mothers alone should be the primary caregivers,” he continued. “Worse, explicitly (or implicitly) telling a male employee that they’re less of a man for taking time to be with their family after their child’s birth is as stupid as it is outdated. Showing up is exactly what fathers should be doing for their families. Now is the time to eliminate the stigma associated with paternity leave, once and for all.”
Alexis Ohanian Sr. noted that the COVID-19 pandemic has highlighted just how important the role of the father is, revealing that shared responsibilities between mothers and fathers have risen 11% since the pandemic began. He also pointed out a Harvard University study that revealed: “Nearly 70% of fathers across America feel closer to their children now than they did pre-pandemic.” Ohanian Sr. also explained that “a mother’s earnings can rise by about 7% for each additional month her spouse is able to take leave,” which lets fathers not only spend time with their babies, but it also sets families up “for a better quality of life.”
Despite the benefits to paternity leave, the stigma behind it still remains. Ohanian Sr. says that it is not enough to just fight for paternity leave, but that “fathers must feel empowered to take paternity leave, and our society needs to normalize this.” To eliminate the stigma behind fathers taking paternity leave, Ohanian Sr. says that change needs to start “at the top, not only with implementing paid family leave policies for moms and dads but also through leading by example.”
Alexis Ohanian Sr. practiced what he preached, taking four months of paternity leave when Olympia was born in 2017, as per Reddit’s company policy. “I wanted to set an example for all of our hundreds of employees—not just the men, but especially them,” says Ohanian Sr.
“As I celebrate another year with my daughter, I feel not only fortunate to have been there for all the milestones at the start of her life, but I also realize how critical it is for other fathers to have that same opportunity,” he continued. “We need to change the way we as a culture think about paternity leave and empower fathers to embrace it as a right they are entitled to, and not a career choice they have to make.”