'All In': Is paid leave for fathers of newborns the next workplace battlefront?
June 21, 2015 12:00 AM
"All In" by Josh Levs.
Josh Levs, author of "All In."
By Kim Lyons / Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
When he was preparing to take time off after the birth of his third child in 2013, CNN correspondent Josh Levs was stunned to learn that his employer’s policy entitled him to just two weeks of paid leave. He filed a suit with the Equal Opportunity Employment Commission, claiming the leave policy of CNN parent company Time Warner discriminated against fathers, and eventually won.
"ALL IN: HOW OUR WORK FIRST CULTURE FAILS DADS, FAMILIES AND BUSINESSES, AND HOW WE CAN FIX IT TOGETHER"
By Josh Levs HarperOne ($25.99).
That battle is the foundation for Mr. Levs’ book “All In,” which has the ambitious subtitle “How Our Work First Culture Fails Dads, Families and Businesses, and How We Can Fix It Together.”
Mr. Levs’ central thesis, that fathers need to be a bigger part of the conversation about family leave, is laudable. No one can argue that American family leave policies are woefully disconnected from the needs of modern parents.
Paid family leave, Mr. Levs posits, is part of the solution. He suggests a 401(k) style plan that would allow workers to set aside some of their pay tax free, which they could access to bridge gaps in whatever paid leave their employer offers.
Even Mr. Levs admits a few sentences later that this idea is a little “pie-in-the-sky.” Throughout the book, Mr. Levs makes several reasonable arguments about why and how paid leave policies should be enacted, whether there should be a federal law and what’s preventing such rules from happening.
He picks apart the stereotypes that stand in the way of equal parenting, among them one of my biggest peeves, the unrelenting portrayal of the “doofus dad.” Advertising and popular culture images of fathers who are utterly incompetent at basic parenting tasks like diapering, Mr. Levs argues, contribute to the notion that only mothers should stay home to raise children.
But in the chapter titled “Flexibility” the central flaw in the author’s well-meaning plan starts to unravel. He writes that “some offices might be willing to offer flexibility if only more of us asked” but notes there is a “flexibility stigma” that prevents men from asking for such arrangements. Workers have power, Mr. Levs writes. “If we have skills and are good at what we do, employers need us, not vice versa.”
While the economy may not be in free-fall anymore, it seems a little unrealistic to suggest that workers alone can push for such change from within. Not everyone has the skill level or the job security to allow such bold action, especially those whose families rely on their salaries. But it’s tempting to buy into Mr. Levs’ patient determination; after all, his fight for equal treatment was successful.
The other large hole in his reasonable-sounding arguments is that not everyone who works is a parent. This is a major pain point for many workers who do not have children: that they end up picking up slack for the parents who need flexible schedules to attend to children. While parents certainly need, and should get, better work arrangements, employers can’t very well make two-tiered policies.
Mr. Levs’ central argument in “All In” is that a groundswell of support by parents actively calling for reforms to family leave policies will eventually pressure employers to enact them. The cynic in me thinks if this strategy were effective, it would have happened already. But it’s heartening to read a narrative that envisions mothers and fathers as equal partners in the battle.
I interviewed Josh Levs while his case was still pending and found him to be a thoughtful, sincere guy who genuinely believes in equality for working parents, both mothers and fathers. Changing corporate culture is hard. But this book is a great step toward starting the conversation.
Kim Lyons: email@example.com or 412-263-1241; Twitter @SocialKimLy
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