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Why Mark Zuckerberg’s 2-Month Paternity Leave Is Good News for Working Parents

Recently, Mark Zuckerberg announced that he will take two months off after his wife Priscilla Chan gives birth. That shouldn't come as a shock: after all, Facebook, like many tech companies, offers a generous paid parental leave policy for both moms and dads. But in a country where paid paternity leave is rare – only 13 percent of dads who took leave after their children arrived received pay, compared to 21 percent of moms, according to the Department of Labor – and chief executives are expected to show leadership by making their companies the unequivocal center of their lives, Zuckerberg's choice to take some time off is almost radical. If it becomes a trend, especially among male CEOs, it could even have positive repercussions for the rest of us in our working lives.

Recently, Mark Zuckerberg announced that he will take two months off after his wife Priscilla Chan gives birth. That shouldn’t come as a shock: after all, Facebook, like many tech companies, offers a generous paid parental leave policy for both moms and dads. But in a country where paid paternity leave is rare – only 13 percent of dads who took leave after their children arrived received pay, compared to 21 percent of moms, according to the Department of Labor – and chief executives are expected to show leadership by making their companies the unequivocal center of their lives, Zuckerberg’s choice to take some time off is almost radical. If it becomes a trend, especially among male CEOs, it could even have positive repercussions for the rest of us in our working lives.

zuckerberg baby

(Photo Credit: Mark Zuckerberg/Facebook)

“This is a very personal decision, and I’ve decided to take 2 months of paternity leave when our daughter arrives,” Zuckerberg wrote at Facebook. “Studies show that when working parents take time to be with their newborns, outcomes are better for the children and families. At Facebook we offer our US employees up to 4 months of paid maternity or paternity leave which they can take throughout the year.”

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The sound you heard was probably Facebook employees wildly applauding, and making their own guilt-free plans to take time off when they build their families. After all, corporate culture extends from the top: if the CEO sleeps under his desk, workers will feel the need to do so, too. Ditto for having work-life balance – if the boss prioritizes family, it becomes easier for everyone else to do the same.

“I applaud his decision, which runs counter to so many of the prevailing (and deleterious) myths we have about what it takes to be the leader of a large company,” writes Vlad Savov at The Verge. “All too often, workaholism is mistaken for dedication, and neglect of family is taken as some kind of marker for diligence. We need more people like Zuckerberg — those who have a choice of whether to take parental leave or not — to set the right expectations and an example for everyone around them to follow.”

Let’s Address the Yahoo-Sized Elephant in the Room

Inevitably, coverage of Zuckerberg’s decision will bring up Marissa Mayer’s very different choices, re: maternity leave at Yahoo. For her first pregnancy, Mayer took two weeks off after the birth of her son; for her second, with twins, she reportedly plans to take similarly limited time away. Never mind that this decision actually gives her something in common with a quarter of working women in the U.S. who take off two weeks or less after giving birth; as a public figure, and a woman, her decisions are open to scrutiny and judgment.

Of course, there’s no right answer for women at Mayer’s level. If she’d taken three months off for each birth, she would’ve been accused of not being dedicated to her job, and leaving the shareholders in the lurch during a “unique time in Yahoo’s transformation.”

Even for women who aren’t running public companies, taking time out for family comes at a heavy price. PayScale’s report, Inside the Gender Wage Gap, shows that women only experience pay parity with men when they’re single, childless, and never take time away from work for non-work priorities. If they marry and have kids, they take a hit to their paychecks (2.2 percent less than men with similar obligations), even if they never put family first. Choosing family over work even once a year brings that penalty up to 4.4 percent.

Zuckerberg’s Leave Could Make Life Easier for Working Parents – Even Moms

The U.S. offers abysmal parental leave policies for both men and women. Parents who work for a company that qualifies might get unpaid leave under FMLA, but only 12 percent of workers in the private sector have access to paid leave, according to the Department of Labor. Companies like Facebook that offer flexible, fully paid leave, are even rarer still.

Real change for all working parents will take legislation mandating workable leave policies, but in the meantime, it’s important to have examples like Zuckerberg’s paternity leave to demonstrate that dedication to work doesn’t mean abandoning all hope of a personal life.

And, yes, alas, it’s important that he’s a man, as well as a prominent figure.

“That is part of what’s needed to advance this social movement,” Stew Friedman, Director of the Wharton Work/Life Integration Project, told Wired. “For high level executives in high profile companies to say, ‘Look, this is part of life. There are ways of organizing your time over the course of your life that allow you to invest in the things that matter to you at different points in life. We want to support that.'”

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Does your company offer paid parental leave – and do people take it? We want to hear from you! Leave a comment or join the discussion on Twitter.

Jen Hubley Luckwaldt
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