Reddit co-founder Alexis Ohanian’s wife, tennis great Serena Williams, almost died after giving birth two years ago, and as she spent days fighting for her life against pulmonary embolisms, Ohanian was there through it all to take care of his newborn daughter and Williams.
That’s because unlike most men in the U.S., Ohanian had access to — and unapologetically took — the full 16 weeks of paid parental leave offered by Reddit at the time. Williams battled a slew of health complications, including a rupture in her cesarean stitches, leaving her bedridden for the first six weeks of motherhood.
“I really didn’t know what I was getting into,” Ohanian told FOX Business during an interview on Monday. “I just thought, ‘Let me be a leader and take my full leave.’ That was only after the birth of our daughter and the complications my wife faced that I realized just how important it was for every American to have access to it. We have every advantage imaginable, and this was still a traumatic time.”
Among developed nations, the U.S. remains an outlier: Out of 41 nations, it’s the only country that does not require companies to provide paid time off for new parents, according to data compiled by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development. And last March, a mere 17 percent of all workers had access to paid family leave, the Department of Labor found.
Ohanian plans to change that.
On Tuesday, the 36-year-old, alongside Dove Men+Care and the nonprofit Paid Leave US, is heading to Capitol Hill for a Dads’ Day of Action, meeting with a bipartisan group of lawmakers to push for mandated paid parental leave. Ohanian said some of those legislators include: Sens. Kirsten Gillibrand, D-N.Y., Marco Rubio, R-Fla., Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y. and Rep. Jim Clyburn, D-S.C. The group also plans to meet with representatives from Democratic presidential candidates, including Sen. Elizabeth Warren and Sen. Cory Booker.
“I fully expect every presidential candidate to have a specific policy plan for paid parental leave,” he said.
“We’re a nation that prides ourselves on the family being at the heart of everything. This really feels like an inevitability for a country that talks about how important the family.”
Ultimately, Ohanian said he’d like to see six months of federally mandated paid family leave for every American — a demand that he believes is in the realm of possibility. Ohanian, who co-founded Reddit in 2005, then sold it 16 months later to Condé Nast for an undisclosed amount, also pointed to the business aspect. Not only will companies try to compete with each other for better policies, he said, but employees will become more productive.
The entrepreneur now works at the venture capital company he co-founded, Initialized Capital, where there are currently three fathers on leave at the same time (like Reddit, Initialized Capital also offers four months of paid family leave). A key part of that mandated leave, he said, is allowing flexibility in how employees take that time off. For instance, if a new dad wants to take off every Friday until the allotted time runs out, companies should allow him to take it.
“We’re kidding ourselves if we think our employees’ home life has no effect on their work life,” he said, adding, “I think we’re going to see a very crystal-clear business case for why this makes sense.”