Could the way to make startups more female friendly be to make them more father friendly? Songkick thinks so. By Jessica Stillman (Editor, Women 2.0)
The notion that work norms and corporate culture need to change in order for more women to rise to the top is an old idea. But lately a newer take on this long-discussed truism has been doing the rounds: perhaps the way to change attitudes toward women and mothers is to change policies surrounding fathers.
The thinking is that if women get special perks around motherhood like maternity leave and flexible hours, then employers will be less likely to promote women because they'll assume their organization will have to bear a hefty financial burden for doing so if and when female employees become mothers. The solution, suggest some, isn't just better support for mothers, it's better support for fathers as well, thus equalizing the playing field. If every new parent is going to be gone for awhile then there's no reason to favor men.
"In order to prescribe policies that really allow female workers to 'lean in' at work, social scientists are trying to find ones that recast social norms and encourage male workers to 'lean in' at home," writes Catherine Rampell recently in the New York Times Magazine. "One area where there seems to be a lot of potential is paternity leave, which still has a stigma in both the United States and Europe. To remedy this bad rap, countries like Sweden and Norway have recently introduced a quota of paid parental leave available only to fathers."
It's not just Scandinavian countries that are warming up the idea. Female-founded startup Songkick is getting with the program on paternity leave as well. A recent article in the UK's Guardian newspaper reports on the new policy on paternity leave at the company:
The legal requirement is for two weeks, but Songkick offers six weeks' paid leave and up to 46 weeks on top of that, explained co-founder Michelle You. The first time the company had to (hastily) draft a paternity and maternity policy was in 2008 when they only had a team of seven. The next Songkick baby is due in July this year. …
"There's a mental block a lot of women have about their careers before they've even got to the stage where they are ready to have children, so it is something that women think about and worry about more than men," said You. "None of my male friends worry about what will happen to their careers when they have kids, but in particular there is this expectation on women to be a mum, stay at home and shoulder the responsibility of childcare.
"That is reinforced by the unequal parental leave policy. If the mother can take nine months but the father can only take two weeks, then who is going to do it?"
Co-founder Ian Hogarth and self-described "proud feminist" hopes to set a precedent by offering equal amounts of maternity and paternity leave: "[Startups] are good at establishing… norms around how business is done and shifting expectations of how a business should treat you." That power to lead by example hasn't been used as much as it could be when in comes to family and women-friendly workplaces, but perhaps Songkick's move will start a conversation to change that.
Women 2.0 readers: Do you think startups should be in the lead when it comes to offering generous paternity leave?
Jessica Stillman is an editor at Women 2.0 and a freelance writer with interests in unconventional career paths, generational differences, and the future of work. She writes a daily column for Inc.com and has blogged for CBS MoneyWatch, GigaOM and Brazen Careerist, among others. Follow her on Twitter at @entrylevelrebel.