Yahoo!, Marissa Mayer, Paternity Leave and a Step Forward

Marissa Mayer announced a progressive paternity leave policy at Yahoo! Especially considering recent Yahoo! decisions, these policies represent an important step forward for working dads everywhere.

Yahoo's paternity leave policy is a step forward (and somewhat makes up for Mayer's earlier telework decision)
Yahoo’s paternity leave policy is a step forward (and somewhat makes up for Mayer’s earlier telework decision)

Fair or not, when Yahoo! hired Marissa Mayer as their CEO, Mayer had to know that her status as a thirty-something first-of-her-generation new mother female CEO would attract a lot of attention, and that many would look past her impressive qualifications (degrees from Stanford, a staggeringly productive career and rise up the ranks at Google), and focus instead on the symbolic nature of her position- especially when it came to work and family considerations.

The early returns on that front, well let’s just say, were not so good.

The first visible management decision Mayer made was to ban telecommuting at Yahoo! (while building a nursery in her executive suite). At the time, I called the move overly blunt, on the wrong side of history, short-sighted, and unsupported by research- in short, a step backwards.

Upon reflection, I ultimately found the ban as unnecessary and largely beside the point– all downside and no upside. Less than 2% of Yahoo employees worked primarily from home, and while the ban targeted them, the many other productive Yahoo! employees who relied on part-time and ad-hoc telecommuting for work-life balance were equally punished. Worse, the whole flap may have resulted in a chilling effect on workplace flexibility beyond Yahoo’s offices.

The decision caused a media firestorm (lots of smart businesspeople, writers and academics- see here and here– largely agreed with me. Some contrarians did not) that served to raise the issues of work-life balance and workplace flexibility- and, as I stated on NPR’s Morning EditionI welcome any debate on these topics as the more one looks into them, the clearer the business case for them becomes.

I stand by everything I wrote about Yahoo! and Mayer. And, today, I am more than happy to give credit where credit is due. Mayer and Yahoo! recently announced the following policies:

  • A doubling of paid maternity leave from 8 weeks to 16 weeks
  • Offering 8 weeks paid paternity leave to new dads
  • A gift of $500 to help the new parents with new baby expenses

While I do question why maternity and paternity leave are not put on equal footing, let’s leave this aside for another day. I’d like to focus on the positive. And there’s a lot here to like.

As Nanette Fondas (who is awesome, you should follow her), writes in her Atlantic article:

The new Yahoo policy holds potential not only to change a father’s behavior during the eight weeks he spends with the baby while on paternity leave, but also to inch the country toward parity between the sexes in parenting.

The explicit mention of paternity leave is consistent with other efforts to make paternity leave more socially acceptable. As Catherine Rampell states in her NY Times Magazine feature:

[Paternity Leave] still has a stigma in both the United States and Europe. To remedy this bad rap, countries like Sweden and Norway have recently introduced a quota of paid parental leave available only to fathers. If dads don’t take it, they’re leaving money on the table. In Germany and Portugal, moms get bonus weeks of maternity leave if their husbands take a minimum amount of paternity leave. All these countries have seen gigantic increases in the share of fathers who go on leave.

And we really do need societal expectations to change. According to the Boston College Center for Work and Family’s “New Dads” study (which I’ve written about here and here), a vanishingly small percentage of fathers take a paternity leave upon the birth of their children. Instead, new dads cobble together a short leave using vacation, personal and sick days. From the study:

75% of our sample took off one week or less and 16% did not take any time off at all following the birth of their most recent child. While government and corporate policies (or lack of policies) often make if difficult and financially challenging for fathers to spend any significant time off with their newborn children, it is nonetheless a clear opportunity missed for the fathers to spend time bonding with their new offspring and caring for their needs

From the "New Dads" study. Dads don't get (or take) enough paternity leave
From the “New Dads” study. Dads don’t get (or take) enough paternity leave

This lack of real and perceived ability to take paternity leave is at odds with a male workforce that is increasingly involved at home, and aspires to be even more involved going forward. The New Dads study found:

  • 70% of working dads, when asked about their family lives, stated their family role was to be both caretaker and provider (as opposed to less than 10% who chose only one role or the other), and 65% agreed that both parents should equally share caregiving responsibilities.
  • While the majority of respondents said they spent between 2.5 and 4 hours per day with their children (significant progress from past generations), only 31% reported they met their stated standard of equal caregiving.

Societal and corporate support for paternity leave would go a long way to helping today’s involved working dad be there for his family. And, of course, we all benefit from having more involved fathers.

Culture changes slowly, as an accumulation of small decisions. I am very glad that Yahoo! (like Major League Baseball, as I wrote about last month) is taking a visible step forward to changing our culture. And, as I stated before, I welcome any discussion on the topics for work-family balance and workplace flexibility (especially for dads), as the more one looks into them, the clearer the business case for them becomes.

So, at least for today, I do Yahoo!

What do you think about Yahoo’s decision? about paternity leave? Any experiences to share? Let’s discuss in the comments section.

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When I first heard the news of yahoo’s paternity leave policy, I couldn’t help but think of Harry and Lloyd from Dumb and Dumber. Enjoy:

18 thoughts on “Yahoo!, Marissa Mayer, Paternity Leave and a Step Forward

  1. Great post, Scott. While some may view this as being socially aware and getting “with the times,” as well as Yahoo! being family-friendly (despite the removal of employees working remotely a few months ago), let’s not forget what this really is: a business decision.

    Competitors like Google and Facebook have provided just as good, if not better, benefits than what Yahoo! is now providing. I have no doubt in my mind that if they hadn’t, Marissa Mayer wouldn’t have been so open to making these recent benefit enhancements. Yahoo! needs to attract talent from well-run companies like those it competes with. They’re not going to do that if they can’t sweeten the deal and provide benefits as good as them, at the very least.

    • Hi Dan- thanks for the comment. Yes, of course this is a business decision, and I consider it a good one.

      I spend most of my day job getting business students and MBAs to understand that long-term, employee-oriented management isn’t just nice- it is good business!

      • Yes being family friendly is good for business–as and when there are recruiting and retention problems.

        Recent improvements in family benefits at Google, Yahoo etc. are in reality exceptions that prove a very different rule than that envisaged by the blogger. These firms are at the moment competing with each other for the very best and brightest. they are predictably sweetening the deal however they can, preferably as cheaply as possible. So what?

        Melissa of Yahoo has not seen the light. Quite the reverse. Here is her latest prank.

        Ask yourself what is that going to do to new parents?

        That the top one hundredth of one percent of candidates get offered longer paternity leave says nothing. Who can be surprised? John gets leave not because John is a parent and being nice to parents is good for the bottom line but because being nice to JOHN is good for the bottom line. As a candidate with sought-after talents and thus ample opportunities to go elsewhere John is in a strong negotiating position.

        This tells us zero about the prospects of the other 99.9 per cent of workers with children, but the evidence suggests that things are getting worse not better.

        In 2008 just before the financial crash, I was hired as part of a major work-family (note the word order) policy initiative for a European employer’s organization. The report was to be the first shot in a multi year strategy to help member companies to recruit and retain staff. The presumption, openly stated, was that the “new economy” meant that the balance of power between employer/employee had permanently shifted. Business was growing, demand for workers was rising, the rising generation of young workers was sought after. Generations Y and Z were small and choosy about all kinds of things, including balancing family and work and employers would have no choice but to go along.

        Within 6 months Lehman Brothers collapsed, the crisis hit, unemployment rose, and the long term program was permanently cancelled. The report was published not with a bang but with a whimper and quickly dropped out of sight. Everyone hired specifically for the project was fired.

        So much for the hope that concern for families is inherently good for the bottom line. That is only true, as Abraham Maslow pointed out, where employment is long term. that was often the case in the post war period –especially for the salaried male middle class but hardly so now. Companies with short time horizons (the majority in Anglo Saxon shareholder capitalism) have no inherent reason to concern themselves with the long term welfare of their employees–they don’t need to–firing them and/or cutting benefits is the single quickest way to improve the bottom line–and companies seem sure that there are more where they came from, if not here then in China.

        What can parents do? Be skeptical of PR campaigns for family friendly practices or CSR–some very bad companies have great ratings, scored top ten in Familes and Work Institute survey, etc.

        Of course there will always be a few rare souls who can call their own shots. Your best bet is to be, or become, one of them.
        But few parents are in that category and once they are parents it becomes even more difficult to become or remain that star employee in that key position. And, where companies perceive no connection between the bottom line and being good to parents, which will be the case for many (if only because companies are short sighted), then the market mechanism is no help. Then you must rely on your employer’s morality–that is to say a set of precepts stronger than self-interest or materialism. So try to find an employer who is genuinely decent. I would look first for work among those who with a strong personal reputation for decent leadersip. Then among those who happen to belong to a firm religion or belief system. Political persuasion doesn’t matter. Quakers for example made their name and many made a fortune in England by being honest decent traders–they introduced the idea of the fair price and refused to chisel customers. Mormons are hard working and believe in free markets but also believe very strongly in families. Doesn’t matter as long as their morals stretch to more than the size of the next quarterly profit.

        One could go into business for oneself–but there are no benefits like paid sick leave to fall back on. Failing that I would look for work in a organization with high levels of employment security (ha I know I know)–creates potential common interest in each other’s welfare. Failing that, a workplace with strong formal policies and a rule following culture. You won’t get intelligent flexibility but you may be able actually to go home on time, take your vacation as scheduled, etc.


        • You make some very good points here, and I share much of your frustration. A recent SHRM study shows that only 15% of employers offer any paid paternity leave. It is also true that many companies see work flexibility as an employee perk for retaining just top performers and as a luxury that can be done away with when resources are scarce.

          Still, even a small step is progress. And a small step can lead to another step, and so on. I bet if we look back in 10 years, there will be substantial progress (with still much more to go).

          Until then, let’s both keep agitating for change.

  2. I think there are at least two important steps to enable men to take paternity leave. One (as Scott points out) is removing the stigma associated with it. But another is helping new dads who simply cannot take time off from work due to economic reasons. People who work in hourly jobs, for example, usually don’t get paid if they don’t show up to work. Many of these families live paycheck to paycheck, so paternity leave is just not feasible. As a father of two young girls, it saddens me to think about those 16% of men in the survey who did not take any time after the birth of their children.

  3. This is a like feeding a starving child one lick of a lollipop. What happens when the the two or eight weeks is up?What of the next 21 years? A child needs unrestricted access to love and support until it is adult. That is what being a child IS. Marissa’s parental leave publicity stunt in no way makes up for her horrible decision to ban teleworking flexibility. She now permits birth and bonding. Big deal. She forbids the child to subsequently make use of the bond.

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