Dec 07, 2015

    Zuckerberg's dad leave merits 'likes'

    I TEND to click "like" with wild abandon, but I wish I could give Mark Zuckerberg a thousand likes for his recent action.

    To be honest, there are times I feel that Facebook, which he co-founded, is downright evil, and I'm not particularly impressed by his massive "donation to charity", either. Yes, I hope it inspires other billionaires to share the wealth, and it was certainly a very special way to celebrate the birth of his daughter. Any kid would be proud of a dad who gives up part of his fortune in the hope of building a better world.

    But, as a mother, I can't thank Mark enough for setting an example in taking two months' paternity leave and, furthermore, for announcing that his male United States employees are entitled to four months. Take a bow, Mark. It surely means a lot to the lucky couples in your office.

    It seems as though everyone is always talking about gender equality, and yet few people have stepped up to the plate and taken action. Mark has set an example that every private company and public agency should follow.

    His announcement of the policy change didn't come across as someone preaching from his high horse.

    "Studies show that, when working parents take time to be with their newborns, the outcome is better for the children and families," he wrote. I love the way he shuns rhetoric and gets straight to the facts.

    I've seen many hypocrites in the past, but in this case Mark has made his mark.

    If a mother needs maternity leave, why shouldn't a father also have time off work to spend with the baby? After all, it's such an old-fashioned assumption that the task of child-rearing must fall to the mother when so many mums are now working outside the home too. Who set the rule that the father's role is "coach" and the mother's is breastfeeding, changing diapers and cleaning the baby?

    Simply put, gender equality ought to be more a matter of daily life, and everyone should be on an equal footing, sharing the same responsibilities and receiving the same treatment from society. This isn't "politics", just common sense. Giving both parents leave from work makes a social statement that they share equally in the task of parenting. This is why I fully endorse studies that demonstrate the benefits of having parents stay home with newborns. Any mum would be less stressed if she had a loving pair of helping hands at the start.

    Any firm that embraces Mark's paternity-leave policy will create an equal environment in the workplace. Men and women will feel equal because they can both be absent from work to attend to their parenting duties. It will narrow the gender gap in the office. Women can enjoy better balance between life and work and - the real beauty of this idea - with their husbands also granted leave, they can return to work sooner, a boon to their careers. Even chances of promotion will at least equalise between the genders.

    So Mark has begun his paternity leave, and even though he's settling for two months instead of the four to which he's entitled, he's put the issue back in the limelight.

    You would think that the US, such a champion of human rights, would be way ahead on this issue, but you'd be wrong. Only 17 per cent of American firms offer paternity leave. Worse, even where it's offered, the majority of men decline to take it! The chief reason is that they don't want to be out of the loop, lest their career ladder be shortened.

    This is a predicament that will have to be overcome in the long term. But what Mark has done at his Fortune 500 company should help inspire other "corporate animals" to strike a better balance between personal life and career. More importantly, it shows that even a billionaire boy wonder recognises that diaper duty isn't just for mums.

    It's no wonder that millions of people clicked "like" to his post. Now it is time to "share" the idea.