Mark Zuckerberg's paternity leave: Is tech industry setting a new standard?

Facebook, Netflix, and other tech companies have been at the forefront of instituting family-friendly polices that encourage both mothers and fathers to take time off work after a new born. 

Stephen Lam/Reuters
Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg speaks on stage during a town hall at Facebook's headquarters in Menlo Park, California September 27, 2015.

In what is seen by many as an exemplary move for working parents in the United States, Mark Zuckerberg, the chairman and CEO of Facebook, has announced that he will take two months off from work after the birth of his daughter

Mr. Zuckerberg, and wife Priscilla Chan, announced in July that they were expecting their first child.

"Priscilla and I are starting to get ready for our daughter's arrival. We've been picking out our favorite childhood books and toys," Zuckerberg said in a Facebook post. "We've also been thinking about how we're going to take time off during the first months of her life. This is a very personal decision, and I've decided to take 2 months of paternity leave when our daughter arrives."

Zuckerberg's high-profile choice highlights the parenthood perks being offered by US tech companies as well as the larger debate in corporate America regarding family-friendly policies. 

Susan Wojcicki, CEO of Alphabet Inc., YouTube’s parent company, has been a vocal advocate of extensive family benefits in workplaces, which she says bolsters business performances.

In an op-ed in the Wall Street Journal late last year, Ms. Wojcicki wrote:

When we increased paid maternity leave to 18 from 12 weeks in 2007, the rate at which new moms left Google fell by 50%. (We also increased paternity leave to 12 weeks from seven, as we know that also has a positive effect on families and our business.) Mothers were able to take the time they needed to bond with their babies and return to their jobs feeling confident and ready. And it’s much better for Google’s bottom line - to avoid costly turnover, and to retain the valued expertise, skills and perspective of our employees who are mothers.

Best of all, mothers come back to the workforce with new insights. I know from experience that being a mother gave me a broader sense of purpose, more compassion and a better ability to prioritize and get things done efficiently. It also helped me understand the specific needs and concerns of mothers, who make most household spending decisions and control more than $2 trillion of purchasing power in the U.S.

As it stands now, just 12 percent of private workers and 5 percent of low-income workers in the US have access to any form of parental leave, Wojcicki notes.

In recent years, high-tech companies have been blazing the trail when it comes to family-friendly policies.

In August, Netflix announced that it will offer new mothers and fathers as much time off as they want during the first year after a child’s birth or adoption.

Facebook employees in the US are allowed up to four months of paid parental leave, which they can take all at once or throughout the year.

The US Navy too, recently announced plans to increase paid maternity leave to 18 weeks. This is three times the amount that women in these two military branches were able to have before.

In the US, it's corporations and not the federal or state government that have been pushing the boundaries of parental time off. The US lags far behind other developed countries in not offering government-funded paid maternity leave. In fact, the US is currently one of two nations in the world that does not offer paid maternity leave; the other nation is Papua New Guinea.

After Netflix announced up to a year of maternity or paternity leave, many hailed it as progress. But Harvard professor Robert Reich wasn't as enthusiastic. He wrote:

But before we celebrate the dawn of a new era, keep two basic truths in mind.

First, these new policies apply only to a tiny group considered “talent” – highly educated and in high demand.

They’re getting whatever perks firms can throw at them in order to recruit and keep them....Netflix’s new policy doesn’t apply to all Netflix employees, by the way. Those in Netflix’s DVD division aren’t covered. They’re not “talent.”...

The second thing to know about the new family-friendly work policies is that relatively few talented millennials are taking advantage of them.

They can’t take the time.

In his Facebook post, Zuckerberg points out that studies that "when working parents take time to be with their newborns, outcomes are better for the children and families."

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