Paid family leave is the headline of yet another white-picket-fence conversation that has failed to include the voices of black, brown, and non-binary families. Unsurprisingly, the United States is the only industrialized nation without a mandatory paid family leave policy, and under the current Family and Medical Leave Act (FLMA), employees can only take up to 12 weeks of unpaid leave. Though 89 percent of people have access to this unpaid leave, 62 percent of Black adults and 73 percent of Latino adults cannot afford to take off of work without compensation. Evidently, men have also gotten the short end of the stick, as less than one in five men in the United States are being offered any form of paid paternity leave by their employer.
In an effort to engage more men in the conversation, Dove Men+Care and Paid Leave for the United States (PL+US) teamed up with Alexis Ohanian, co-founder of both Initialized Capital and Reddit, and members of Congress to create a Dad’s Day of Action, in which they presented 36k signatures from the Pledge for Paternity Leave to demand policy change in the U.S. “Dadvocates” and champions of paid family leave gathered to highlight the need for a paid, federal leave policy in this country. To address the needs of millions of expectant dads, Dove created the Paternity Leave Fund, a one million dollar commitment to provide $5,000 to dads without access to paid paternity leave.
John Scott, a father of two from Texas, notes that while his employer offered unpaid leave through the FMLA, “it fell short in the sense that I had to make a choice.” With only two weeks of time-off saved up, he continues, “I had to sacrifice my pay for my family in order to spend more time with them or go back to work and have no time to take care of my wife the way she needed.” Other fathers, like Rob Skaggs from California, had to overcome the stigmas that this country has bred. “ To be honest,” he says, “it wasn’t something that I thought much about. I kind of fell into that stigma ─ that culture in America ─ that fathers should just get back to work as soon as they can.” However, when two of his children fell incredibly ill, the youngest diagnosed with cancer, paid family leave became quite important. “If I had to choose between being there for my daughter in the hospital or being there for my son in the hospital or my financial obligation at work…,” the father of four trailed off in dismay. “Not having paid family leave available at the time would have been terrible.” Paid family leave, including paternity leave, would allow more people to contribute to their families emotionally and financially and even break down some of the stigmas that exist to perpetuate toxic masculine ideologies.
For fathers like Alexis Ohanian, taking paternity leave was not an option as his wife, Serena Williams, faced life-threatening complications after the birth of their daughter Olympia. In an exclusive interview with Ohanian, the reddit founder admits that these series of challenges “crystalised” the importance for him to take leave. “I learned quickly how important it was for me to be there, but I also realized how special it was to bond with my daughter during those first weeks and months.” While he was fortunate enough to have access to paternity leave, Ohanian says, “I don’t want any parent to have to miss out on that opportunity. So I’ve decided to work with Dove Men+Care to get other dads and supporters to sign the Pledge for Paternity Leave.” As a proud businessdad, Ohanian resolved then that “no other employee of mine and certainly no other American should have to go through that and not know there is a job waiting for them…They don’t need to choose between their family and their career.”
Not only does paid leave benefit families, Ohanian adds, “but when employees are back at work and they know their home life is stable, they do better at work.” In order for employees to be happy and productive, and companies to maintain retention, there must be a comprehensive plan that guarantees job protection, anti-discrimination protections, progressive wage replacement, and gender-neutral accomodations.
Ohanian recognizes his privilege within this conversation and advocates for a policy that supports a range of workers, “not just the ones fortunate enough to work in the tech industry.” People of color are more likely to be concentrated in low wage and low-quality jobs that offer fewer protections and workplace support including employer-based health insurance. Therefore, at its core, paid family and medical leave is a racial justice issue. While the Dads Day of Action was a great concept to engage more fathers in the conversation, it missed the mark in ensuring an inclusive and diverse space. In a room full of policy makers and Dadvocates, only a handful of male attendees were minorities, and even less were Black men. Gennard Davis, a New Orleans native and new father, joined the Dads Day of Action as a recipient of Dove’s Paternity Leave Fund. “To really get ‘us’ involved,” he says, “they need someone to act as a catalyst. They need that exposure, especially from someone like me.”
The Black community faces a number of stigmas, especially in regards to the Black family. A federal paid family leave policy would undoubtedly change the lives of families who are unable to take unpaid time off and increase the number of fathers who are intimately involved in their newborns’ lives. Davis adds that “the footwork behind reforming paid leave is to get more people like us involved to push the envelope.” Minorities have been fighting for paid leave reform for decades, but their voices have not pervaded the larger conversation and are, therefore, not being prioritized in the solutions.
Other notable fathers like Chance the Rapper, Daniel Hudson of the Nationals, and Congressman Allred (D-TX-32) are taking paternity leave and using their platforms to advocate for paid leave. Katie Bethell, founder and Executive Director of PL+US, is an OG champion of paid leave and agrees that “so much of our conversation with paid family leave has been focused on one particular demographic. Often times we’re talking about white women.” Bethell and PL+US have been committed to creating a more inclusive conversation and holding politicians accountable to fulfilling the promises they made when they took the oath to serve the people of this country. Interestingly enough, she says, “there’s something really powerful about a dad speaking to another dad about his experience,” which is why fathers like Alexis Ohanian have made advocating for paid family leave a priority.
It is no surprise that there is a huge racial disparity in America, but establishing comprehensive and inclusive paid family and medical leave programs can combat the health and economic inequities experienced by people of color. The National Partnership for Women & Allies asserts that “if paid family and medical leave programs are not crafted carefully, with the needs of people and women of color at the forefront, they can disproportionately exclude these families and perpetuate inequitable access to leave and the economic and health challenges associated with lack of paid leave.” Including men in this journey is a step to getting as many people involved in the conversation and ensuring that all hands are on deck in improving racial equity in the labor force.