The United States is the only advanced economy with no paid parental leave for either mothers or fathers. And though 58 percent of U.S. companies give new mothers some kind of pay, usually disability, after giving birth, only 14 percent offer paid leave to their spouses or partners. Josh Levs, author of the new book, All In, is among a growing number of men who maintain that fathers’ roles are changing and that paid leave is important for both parents from the start to set a new family dynamic. (Full disclosure: the book includes an endorsement from me).
Q: What happened to make you write this book?
Levs: I’d been covering parenting issues for CNN, and then all of a sudden I was in the news. I was doing stories and columns on fatherhood, then my wife was about to have our daughter. My employer, Time Warner, had an extremely unusual policy: anyone could get 10 weeks of paid leave to take care of a new child – except the man who’d impregnated the mother of his child. Me. The biological father.
Mothers got 10 weeks of paid leave….The structure was set up to prevent men from having that option. But what it was really doing was preventing both men and women from having options.
As long as you’re pushing men to stay at work, you’re pushing women to stay home.
In 2013, I went to Time Warner, privately, quietly. I said, ‘I’m needed at home when my baby will be born in a few months.’ They didn’t give me an answer for months.
Then my daughter was born early and I was holding my tiny, preemie daughter in my arms, going back and forth, asking for an answer. They finally said no.
It was like the problems of workplace discrimination fell into my lap. So I filed a complaint of gender discrimination with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.
Q: Where does the complaint stand now?
Levs: It’s still pending. When I filed it, it was like I had unleashed the floodgates. I didn’t realize the outpouring of support I’d get from men’s groups, from women’s groups. We discovered we’re all in this together. We’re all up against these ancient structures. So that support was incredible.
It also had a pragmatic effect. One year later, when it came time to announce the policies for 2015, Time Warner announced it had revolutionized its leave policies in a way that would benefit the overwhelming majority of parents of both genders. That was a big victory.
Before, a man in my situation, a biological father, got two paid weeks of leave. Now we get six. It’s still not enough, at all.
Johnson & Johnson. Facebook. Google. Yahoo. Bank of America. They all offer mothers and fathers big blocks of time for paid parental leave. More and more companies offer several months worth of paid family leave. They’ve found it helps keep and retain employees, makes them loyal, happier and more productive workers.
At the same time, studies show overall employers are cutting back on paid leave. I’m a big believer in education. If people learn the truth, they’ll see the benefit if they have gender neutral policies.
Q: Aside from the expense, what’s keeping so many companies from offering equal parental leave?
Levs: We have a 1950s mentality behind our structures. In the United States, we’re the real outlier with the rest of the world. We have no paid maternity leave. And some countries not only have paid maternity leave, they have paid paternity leave as well.
We don’t hear why. And we need to look at why.
Our structures are based on this archaic concept that men will make all the money and the women will stay home. Why would you have maternity leave? Mothers are supposed to stay home. Why have paternity leave? The man is supposed to make all the money.
But the majority of mothers work – and are responsible for taking care of the kids and home. And more fathers are spending more time doing child care and housework, and still working long hours. That work-life conflict is weighing on everybody.
One study found it weighs more heavily on men: They want to be home more, yet they’re under pressure to be providers.
That work-life conflict is leading to stress, that can mess with your mental health, and mess with your physical life.
All this stuff is intertwined. When your life is forced to be this frenetic, because we have policies that don’t make sense, we’re hurting business, we’re hurting men, we’re hurting women…and we’re hurting children.
The best thing a society can do is ensure its children are taken care of.
Q: You write about taking on the “gender police,” what do you mean?
Levs: The stories are just wild. One father – he and his wife’s baby was born in the middle of the week in an emergency. He just took off the rest of the week. His boss called him in on Monday and rebuked him for taking off so much time. And his boss was a pregnant woman.
That guy ended up quitting – he was comptroller of the company. What they lost was tremendous.
Yet you find that this prejudice exists. The prejudice is against men and women – assuming men stay at work. That’s the reason why we don’t have enough women in the halls of power – the prejudice is pushing women to go home
Q: What could readers facing this stigma do?
Levs: There are little steps and big steps.
I’m optimistic. I really believe people in power want to do the right thing.
1. Take the information to your bosses. Lay out the research. Educate them.
2. Collect information. What are your company’s policies? How do they compare across the industry?
3. Keep lots and lots of records, on your own performance and productivity, on the impact of policies
4. Get excellent legal advice
5. Research about what competitors to your business are offering. And continuously apply for jobs at those places so you have choices.
6. Take steps to promote flexible schedules.
7. And figure out how you best present information to make your pitch. Some prefer writing. Some speaking.
8. Build rapport.
Taking the kind of legal action I took is a last resort. That only applies when policy is discriminatory, though it is an option. Workers in this country forget that we do have power. After 2008, people became so legitimately afraid to stand up. But studies show employers are, in many cases, willing to offer opportunities more than people think. It’s just that a lot of people haven’t asked.
But if you don’t get anywhere, and you are the victim of a gender discriminatory policy, you have the right to take action with the EEOC. Your employer can’t fire you for doing so.
Q: Time Warner has said it can’t comment on pending legal action and has said very little publicly about your case. What was it like working at CNN after you filed the EEOC complaint?
Levs: My colleagues, when I got back to work were openly supportive. Slapping me on my back. People hugging me. When the annual benefits information was released in October, I saw that they’d revolutionized the policy, offering fathers six weeks of paid parental leave.
Now, I get notes from people all across Time Warner – ‘Sending a blessing to you every night for the six weeks I get with my baby.’
It doesn’t mean there’s no risk involved. I don’t know if executives think of me now as someone who rocked the boat.
But I’m optimistic – I think that they wanted to do the right thing. They listened to the research, and made a change.
Q: Has the policy change made a difference for you and your family?
Levs: The six paid weeks were not retroactive. So I didn’t get that.
It’s incredibly painful to think back to the time I had to come back to work. I was so, so needed at home. Like the vast majority of people in America, I couldn’t take unpaid leave. I ended up taking some unpaid leave later on, when I got the book advance. But at that point, my daughter was older, the family dynamics were established.
I take solace in knowing that some of the steps I took can help other people.
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