Parag Agrawal, 37, is just getting started in one of the technology industry’s highest-profile jobs, after taking over as Twitter CEO less than three months ago amid pressure from investors to grow rapidly.
Agrawal, who is the executive sponsor of Twitter’s internal parents group, announced his plan to take parental leave at an all-hands meeting last week. He has not named an interim CEO and plans to stay in touch with his executive team.
“At Twitter, we encourage and fully support employees taking parental leave in whatever way works best for each person,” Laura Yagerman, Twitter’s head of corporate communications, said in a statement. “It’s a personal decision, and we created a parental leave program (supporting up to 20 weeks of flexible leave) that is customizable for that reason.”
Some Silicon Valley tech firms, including Twitter, have been leaders among U.S. corporations in extending paid leave to new parents regardless of gender. Mark Zuckerberg, CEO of Facebook parent company Meta, made headlines in 2015 by taking two months of paid paternity leave when that was a rarity for male executives at major firms. A growing body of research shows that paternity leave has physical and mental health benefits for the whole family.
Yet paternity leave is still controversial in some circles. In October, U.S. Secretary of Transportation Pete Buttigieg was criticized by Fox News host Tucker Carlson and others on the right for taking paternity leave. Palantir co-founder and venture capitalist Joe Lonsdale derided Spotify’s policy of offering six months of parental leave, saying that “any man in an important position who takes 6 months of leave for a newborn is a loser.”
Such backlash can contribute to the stigma attached to taking leave, especially for men, said Joelle Emerson, co-founder and CEO of Paradigm, a company that consults on diversity, equity and inclusion.
“I’m surprised often to find that companies that are very progressive in a lot of other ways still have really outdated policies with regard to supporting all parents in taking leave,” Emerson said. In that context, a highly visible leader like Agrawal taking parental leave can send a healthy message.
“I think men and leaders in particular modeling this behavior sets a tone that can empower people of all genders taking leave, as long as their jobs support that,” Emerson said. She added that she thought a CEO such as Agrawal taking less than the full amount of leave allowed to Twitter employees could be “completely reasonable” because “they have different responsibilities, and often different levels of support to navigate the transition to parenthood.”
Twitter declined to say whether Agrawal took parental leave when he had his first child, but a 2019 tweet from his wife, Vineeta Agarwala, implies that he did. Agarwala, a general partner at the venture capital firm Andreessen Horowitz, tweeted a study that found mothers’ health benefited when their partners stayed home after a child’s birth, adding that she couldn’t imagine what her own postpartum life would have been like without Agrawal at home.
Norms on parental leave are in flux in a country that has long lagged behind other developed nations in paid time off for parents, leaving companies to set their own policies. President Biden’s “Build Back Better” plan, which proposed 12 weeks of paid family and medical leave for all workers, has stalled in Congress. As of March, 23 percent of U.S. civilian workers had access to paid family leave, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.
Elon Musk, the CEO of Tesla and SpaceX and a hero to many in Silicon Valley, has downplayed the importance of fatherhood. Asked in 2020, following the birth of his youngest child, how he found time for his kids in a busy work schedule, Musk told the New York Times that his partner Grimes had “a much bigger role” in caring for the newborn, adding that “right now there’s not much I can do” since “babies are just eating and pooping machines.” The pair have since separated.
Reddit co-founder Alexis Ohanian, in contrast, has advocated publicly for paid paternity leave, saying the 16 weeks he took in 2017 were crucial after his wife, the tennis superstar Serena Williams, suffered nearly fatal complications in childbirth.
How much parental leave female leaders take can be just as controversial, or more so. The same year that Zuckerberg took leave, then-Yahoo CEO Marissa Mayer stirred debate by announcing she planned to take just two weeks of leave after giving birth to twins, while “working throughout.” As a woman in a leadership role, Emerson said, “you often just can’t win no matter what you do, because you face bias in every direction.”
Two Twitter employees, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to comment publicly, said they welcomed Agrawal’s taking leave as a healthy example for others at the company. “I think it’s sweet and speaks well to Twitter culture,” one said. Another added that there’s a lot of stigma about taking leave and said they found it encouraging to see a leader do so, even when it might be inconvenient.
Yet other Twitter employees expressed concern about the company’s financial outlook and the possibility of a leadership vacuum in Agrawal’s absence. It comes at a tricky time for Twitter, whose stock has slid nearly 50 percent since the fall as it struggles to grow as fast as investors would like. In December, Agrawal announced a major reorganization of the company that included the ouster of two top executives.
Last week, Twitter reported earnings for the first time since Agrawal took the helm. The company said it has been adding active users and increasing revenue, but not as fast as Wall Street analysts had hoped — and far slower than the pace that will be needed to meet the company’s ambitious long-term targets. The firm added 25 million daily users in 2021, reaching 217 million by year’s end, but has set a target of 315 million by the end of 2023, along with a doubling of revenue. Twitter executives reaffirmed those goals on a call with investors.
Agrawal took over as CEO at the end of November when Jack Dorsey, who co-founded the company in 2006, stepped down abruptly. Agrawal was a longtime deputy and most recently Twitter’s chief technology officer. Dorsey — who is also CEO of the financial services company Block, formerly Square — had been under pressure from activist shareholders to meet aggressive growth targets, though he said the decision to resign was his own.
When Buttigieg’s paternity leave was in the news last fall, his critics included podcaster Joe Rogan, who has a lucrative exclusive licensing deal with Spotify, and Lonsdale, a prominent tech funder who co-founded Palantir with conservative tech iconoclast Peter Thiel.
“In the old days men had babies and worked harder to provide for their future — that’s the correct masculine response,” Lonsdale tweeted. His comments sparked rejoinders from other male tech leaders, including venture capitalist Garry Tan, an early Palantir employee and co-founder of Initialized Capital.
“Initialized has 4 months leave, and I took all 4 months to make sure everyone at Initialized felt like they could do it,” Tan tweeted in October.
Reached via email, Lonsdale said he wrote the tweet while angry about leaders who he felt were taking leave to be “woke” rather than doing their duty and has since reconsidered his stance somewhat. He now says “there is nothing wrong” with leaders taking paternity leave, provided they “first make sure everything is working well” at their job.
“Taking leave and spending time with kids and spouses and our families obviously matters a huge amount and there are likely lots of ways of doing it right,” Lonsdale said. “I plan to take some part-time leave to spend time with my daughters and help my wife when our fourth daughter comes this spring.”
Elizabeth Dwoskin contributed to this report.