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Facebook’s expanded parental-leave policy: “The right thing to do”

NOTE: As of publication, Mark Zuckerberg and Priscilla Chan have welcomed their first-born daughter, Max, to the world.

Just before the Thanksgiving holiday, you may have read that Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg announced he would take two months of paternity leave once his new daughter is born.

Zuckerberg is by no means the first prominent corporate executive to make headlines for taking paternal leave. (Earlier this year, Yahoo CEO Marissa Mayer earned both criticism and praise for revealing she would take a limited, two-week maternity leave once her second child was born.) What is unique in Zuckerberg’s case is that he is a male executive taking extensive leave for the birth of his child. You see, “Zuck” isn’t just taking the afternoon off, or even a requisite two weeks; rather, he is taking eight full weeks to take on late-night diaper duty as both he and wife Priccilla adjust to being new parents—and he assumes the new title of “working dad.”

What’s more—and what many of us may have missed over the recent holiday—is that Facebook’s head of HR announced several days after Zuckerberg’s original post that the social network’s parental-leave policy would be extended to four months of paid leave for all global employees. Mothers, fathers, same-sex parents and families of all stripes can now enjoy the very same benefits as the CEO (Zuckerberg can take an additional two months of parental leave throughout the year, per the new policy).

Many pundits across social media have weighed in on the merits of Zuckerberg’s pending leave, generally to say “Good for him!” or “Must be nice to be the boss!” or “That’s too long for any executive to take off!” And true, his office affords him the privilege of being able to dictate a parental-leave policy better than most others, one both he and fellow leaders deemed fair and equitable across the board (presumably after considerable research and discussion).

By order and by example, what Zuckerberg announced was beyond brave. It was, as Facebook HR head Lori Matloff Goler stated, “the right thing to do for our people and their families.”

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Myself, I have two young daughters, both of which were born when I was independently consulting (as I still do). In both cases, I was able to decide how to balance my own workload in order to be a closer “parent partner” to my wife, and not just a distant breadwinner as many dads are forced to be. In that respect, I was extremely fortunate.

Not so for many of my male peers, supervisors and team members when I previously worked in corporate settings. Even in the last 5-10 years, the concept of “working dad” was at best uncertain, at worst untenable in those environments. And to take any meaningful time off, while a subjective measure, was practically impossible for those working dads during and after childbirth. Parental-leave polices for “us guys” were practically devoid of any real substance.

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One good thing about Zuckerberg taking so much time off for his newborn, then announcing it to the world, is that he has more than 42 million followers, on a network of 1-billion-plus active daily users. That, plus all the resulting news coverage and social-media commentary across the globe, surely must equal the most widely spread account of parental leave in the history of mankind. Now that’s advocacy for certain!

As multiple sources of research show, expanded parental leave is marching toward a new standard for all workers, male and female. Let’s hope that Mark Zuckerberg and other brave executives help us all progress forward in the workplace faster than before.

Dino Baskovic is a digital contributor to Life Meets Work. He tweets as @ProfessorDino.