Reddit co-founder and Serena Williams's husband: America needs paid family leave

Max Zahn

Tennis star Serena Williams, 37, is back at the U.S. Open for the second time since she nearly died from medical complications linked to a child birth that left her bedridden for six weeks. Williams and Reddit co-founder Alexis Ohanian are rich, famous, and in a marriage with an adorable origin story.

But the birth of their daughter, Alexis Olympia, was hardly a fairytale.

“We had every advantage imaginable and it was still a really difficult experience,” Ohanian told Yahoo Finance Editor-in-Chief Andy Serwer in an episode of “Influencers with Andy Serwer,” which originally aired in February.

The hardship inspired Ohanian to advocate for paid paternity leave, a benefit men often forego or lack access to altogether. He has vowed to lobby for national paid family leave legislation and partnered with hygiene company Dove Men+Care on a million-dollar fund to support dads in the meantime.

“I could not imagine going through all of that without knowing I was going to have a job or without knowing I could have time to be with my family to support them fully mentally, physically, emotionally, financially,” said Ohanian, the co-founder of the venture capital firm Initialized Capital.

Federal law requires large employers to offer 12 weeks of unpaid parental leave after the birth of a child. While some states mandate paid family leave and some companies voluntarily offer it, the United States is the only industrialized country that does not ensure paid parental leave.

Tennis player Serena Williams arrives with her husband Alexis Ohanian to the wedding of Prince Harry and Meghan Markle in Windsor, Britain, May 19, 2018. REUTERS/Toby Melville/Pool
Tennis player Serena Williams arrives with her husband Alexis Ohanian to the wedding of Prince Harry and Meghan Markle in Windsor, Britain, May 19, 2018. REUTERS/Toby Melville/Pool

Ohanian wants to change that.

“I'm putting on a suit and going down to [Washington] D.C. before the end of the year,” he said. “We've had Republicans and Democrats on both sides of Congress speaking out about it and even putting bills forward.”

President Donald Trump has voiced support for paid family leave legislation on many occasions, most recently this month in his State of the Union address. Politicians on both sides of the aisle share the goal of paid family leave, as Ohanian mentioned, but they differ over how to deliver and pay for it. With split control in Congress, a successful bill will need support from both parties.

“These things take time,” Ohanian said. “But it is something I think this country needs.”

‘A step in the right direction’

In the meantime, Ohanian has launched a partnership with Dove Men+Care — a division of the hygiene product company — on a million-dollar fund to provide grants for new or expectant dads who do not have access to meaningful paid leave.

Yahoo Finance All Markets Summit
Yahoo Finance All Markets Summit

“It's still just a Band-Aid,” Ohanian said. “But it's a step in the right direction.”

The partnership also includes an awareness and legislative advocacy campaign.

“Of all the things to be advocating for, getting some extra time that you'll never get back with your newborn and your partner — not a hard sell,” Ohanian said.

He also suggested that the campaign calls for a shift in the norms of masculinity and fatherhood.

“You can be there not just with a check and not just with dollars, but there with time, those are the things that the little ones are going to remember when they're older,” he said. “And I think those are the things for a generation of fathers, in particular, we are going to be most proud of.”q

An earlier version of this story was published on February 25, 2019.

Max Zahn is a reporter for Yahoo Finance.

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