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A Uniquely American Problem

American families are often forced to choose between taking care of a spouse or parent when an unexpected medical emergency come up or keeping their job and benefits. Ryan Picarella, President & CEO of WELCOA, visits with Josh Levs, who reveals how businesses can adapt to evolving gender dynamics in the workplace, the goal of ending myths about men who are fathers, and provides insights to help companies update policies and cultures to create a level playing field for gender equal caregiving. His work has been captured in his book All In: How Our Work-First Culture Fails Dads, Families and Businesses – And How We Can Fix It Together.

Intro:

American families are often forced to choose between taking care of a spouse or parent when an unexpected medical emergency come up or keeping their job and benefits. Ryan Picarella, President & CEO of WELCOA, visits with Josh Levs, who reveals how businesses can adapt to evolving gender dynamics in the workplace, the goal of ending myths about men who are fathers, and provides insights to help companies update policies and cultures to create a level playing field for gender equal caregiving. His work has been captured in his book All In: How Our Work-First Culture Fails Dads, Families and Businesses – And How We Can Fix It Together.

Zero Weeks: A Uniquely American Problem
An Expert Interview with Josh Levs, a Global Expert on Modern Dads at Work

Ryan Picarella   Hi Josh. I really appreciate the opportunity to chat with you.

Josh Levs   Yeah, I’m glad to be here.

RP   And I’ve got to tell you the story before we get started because it is serendipitous how we met. I saw the documentary Zero Weeks on a whim. I was watching Hulu and saw the trailer which piqued my interest and I ended up pulling it up, watching it and seeing you there. And it really struck a chord. I know you have your personal story which I want to get in to. Having two preemie daughters myself, and not taking a day off of work, it just hit me in a personal way and I was compelled to reach out. I think that your story and your work fits perfectly with the work that we’re doing at WELCOA. I’m so thankful and grateful that we are talking today.

JL   That’s right.

Your story is common. The idea of having children and if you’re a dad, not being able to have even one day off with them. That’s a uniquely American problem.

RP   I knew that it was an issue, and I thought that my circumstance may have been unique. But the more I’m learning, the more I’m realizing that it’s not unique really at all.

JL   It’s not. Look, even Saudi Arabia with its incredibly entrenched, unbelievable sexism, even there, dads at least get off a day. In general, in the world, it’s normal for men also to have time when children are born.

RP   You’ve got such an interesting history as an anchor, a fact-checker; you’ve been looking at issues for a long time. What was something in your life that happened that really made this an important issue for you or something that made you really want to go after the whole topic of gender and equity issues and particularly dads in the workplace?

JL   I was a factchecker on CNN. I was doing all this reporting on the air, factchecking politicians and pundits. But at the same time, I became a dad. And on CNN, even though I was a factchecker on air, I also did all kinds of other segments. Once, I did a segment with a bunch of dads just having normal conversations; the kinds that my friends and I have. I assembled this group of dads, and we talked about life. If you’re working, what’s it like to not be home for the first steps? And if you’re an at home dad, what’s it like to stop working? Just normal conversations. The responses that we got to that segment were crazy huge. They were so big, and it was a sign to me.

I wanted to figure out why people cared so much about those segments. I came to understand that no one knew what really goes on with dads. No one ever saw men have real conversations. So then I started factchecking segments about fatherhood, in which I was reporting things that people don’t know, we found that the average working father spends three hours each workday caring for his kids. And that almost a hundred percent of dads who live with their kids, care for them every day of the week or at least several days a week. And people were shocked by these things. So I came to understand that there was a real emptiness; a real misunderstanding of modern fathers. Then came my own big legal case which launched a whole new level of this effort.

RP   So I’m just curious. Did our dads, the last generations of dads, was this a problem for them, or is this a new emerging problem because we just want to be around more? How do you think times have changed the role of fathers and particularly in the workplace?

JL   We are the beneficiaries of generations of feminists. Feminism by definition means gender equality, and so anyone who has a bad idea about feminism doesn’t know what it means, unless you oppose equality. So a part of the legacy of that is it was never just about girls growing up to have equal opportunity in the workplace as women. It was also always about boys growing up and having an equal opportunity to be caregivers. We grew up believing that this stuff was going to be real, so it is a big generational difference. There were a lot of men in previous generations who were raised and told very strictly that your role is to make money, stay at work. And women were told that you have to stay home.

But as times started to change, and in our generation, we came to think, “No, we can all work. And we can all stay home”. And then we got to the workplace, Free to Be… You and Me which is this album from when I was a kid that was all about gender equality. But the workplace hasn’t come along. The workplace was designed in the Mad Men era, so it is really our generation now that have this different set of expectations. We arrived in the workplace and saw that we couldn’t live out our expectations. So it became the burden of our generation to fight this fight.

RP   I would love to go back and figure out how to take more time. Even growing up, I remember that my dad was on the road a lot. Watching him with my children, it seems different. But I know that it’s funny because all the men really want to take a pretty active role in being there for their children or parents. I think that that’s pretty cool. What was the goal when you set out to write your book? What were you hoping to accomplish?

JL   Well, the story of the book comes from the legal case. So number one was to explore it and to help people understand all the issues surrounding it. What happened there was that we already had two sons, and my wife was pregnant with our daughter. We realized that I would be needed at home to do some caregiving when our daughter was born. I looked at the policies that I was under at CNN (Turner and Time Warner), and it made no sense.

It was set up so that anyone could get ten paid weeks to care for their new kid, except a guy who got his own wife pregnant.

Anybody except the typical biological father could get ten weeks off to care for their kid. So I could put my kid up for adoption, someone else I work with adopts her; they get ten paid weeks. If there was a surrogate. Anybody.

So I had gone to work and said, “Hey, this can’t possibly be what you meant. You probably need to fix this; I need this time.” And they wouldn’t give me an answer, and months went by with no answer. Then my daughter was born prematurely in an emergency. Still no answer. Eleven days later, I’m home caring for my four-pound preemie, and my sick wife—because my wife had severe preeclampsia—and my two boys, saying “Hey, am I going back to work now or not?” I asked work, and a guy like me can only get two weeks. And they said, no, that I could not get the longer paid leave.

So I took legal action, and the book grew out of that. The book was an opportunity to dig into these issues. How did we get to a place in which we are basically saying, through our policies and our laws and our stigmas, legislating that women have to be caregivers? Men cannot be caregivers. A traditional father cannot possibly be a caregiver. How did we get there, and how do we fix it? So the goal of the book was to explore that and to lay out the solution.

RP   So you bring up a great question. How did we get here? And why is it that the U.S. seems to lag behind almost every single country with that qualification in the world?

JL   That’s right. We are the only developed nation, almost the only nation, that doesn’t have any system in place to make sure that when a child is born it can have a parent at home and food on the table for at least a block of weeks. It’s just us and Papua New Guinea and Suriname. Like that’s it. There’s no one else. And statistically they are such small countries, so it’s basically just us. I went digging into this, and I came to understand it all goes back to Mad Men thinking. The thought process behind this is that women don’t need to make money because they’re supposed to stay home and not work, and men don’t need to stay home because they’re supposed to make money.

So it’s all based on this very strict gender thinking. Men do this, women do this, and that’s it.

That’s why we have no paid maternity leave in America because she’s a woman. Why does she need to make money? That’s why we have no organized paternity leave because he’s a man. Why would he need to be home?

It’s outdated. It’s sexist. And the net result is that we’re leaving families in this impossible situation in which they cannot guarantee to have a parent at home and food on the table. And that is a violation of human rights. It’s obviously the wrong thing to do to a baby. And if you want to get to the source of it, you have to go back to the mentality behind it. It’s all about that core sexism.

RP   What if someone says but, Josh, we have Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA) now? Does that not solve the problem?

JL   No, no. FMLA, just so everyone understands, guarantees unpaid leave. It does not apply to 40% of workers because it only applies to certain companies. And most families can’t afford unpaid leave anyway. And just so everyone knows, I want to nip this in the bud, I’m not calling for or supporting laws that make business pay people when they’re not working. That’s not the solution.

The solution is insurance. It works. It’s already working in several states. You create a paid family leave insurance system that you pay into, and when you need time off, not just to care for a new kid but to care for an elderly parent or a sick spouse or yourself, you get paid from that fund.

That’s what I’ve been talking about for years, and actually, Ryan, that’s what the documentary that you saw, Zero Weeks, is all about. It’s about the need for paid family leave which everyone can use.

RP   Yeah, absolutely. I wanted to bring this down to the organizational level a little bit. One of the things, even at WELCOA that we’ve talked about, is that the culture of an organization is so important because of the impact that it has on every single person’s health. As I watched the documentary, and got into the book, this really is an equity issue. When you have equity issues within organizations, I think that the impact that it can have on everybody’s health and wellbeing can be huge. From your perspective and your work and looking at organizational culture maybe through a different lens than a wellness person, how have you seen some of these inequity issues impact organizations?

JL   Keep in mind my background of fact-checking.

All the solutions that I point to are ones that are proven to increase profits.

And one way that you increase profits is by increasing opportunity, diversity and equity within an organization. And the simplest way to think of it is this way: everyone who runs a business know this, if they run a business well (because not everyone runs one well): business do best when you have the best minds in the right jobs. Well, guess what? Women are half the people, so the chances are that half the time, a woman is going to be the right one for the job.

If you have a gendered system in which you say women have to stay home and men have to stay at work, you’re taking away from your business the opportunity to hold on to your best employees whether they’re men or women. So obviously that’s a bad thing, so why would you even do it at all? There’s no reason to. So here’s how the inequities play out. I’ve dug through the data of global studies, and I’ve found that it’s legit that nations that do more to address gender equality have better, stronger economies. And, of course, they do because they’re attracting and retaining the best employees and giving families choices. The ones that remove those choices from people have worse economies, and it’s the same thing inside businesses. When you empower people to make their own decisions about who will stay home and who will stay at work, you’re giving them the opportunity to hold on to their jobs. You’re holding on to your best minds.

Also, in this era, attraction and retention in the war for talent are huge, and increasingly in very large numbers, both women and men want to work at places that support them as caregivers outside of work. So one thing we’ve seen, Ernst & Young (EY) did the study and found that in the United States, men are even more likely than women to switch jobs, careers or move to another state or even pick up and move to another country in order to have more time with their families. So when you do things that don’t support people, that don’t support people as fathers, what you’re doing is you’re pushing women to stay home, and you’re pushing men to quit. So it is repeatedly, in numerous ways, bad for business.

RP   And I just want to restate something you said because it is kind of the classic question, what’s the return on investment (ROI)? And if I do this, what’s the returns? And I think what I heard you say is that in all of your research there is a bottom-line impact to making sure that businesses can create an equitable environment for our all working people.

JL   Yeah. Here’s some really simple math. It cost between ninety percent and two-hundred percent of annual salary to replace an employee. Businesses are losing people in droves, even more men than women, when they don’t support men as fathers. Therefore, it’s nothing to choose and I’m not saying the law would require it, but to choose to give a man six to ten paid weeks for paternity leave. That is nothing compared to losing that person and having to pay two-hundred percent of annual salary.

There’s a company in my book and they only have a dozen employees. They’re in Boston, and they give three months of paid leave. I asked them, “Why would you possibly do this?” And they opened up the books, and they said, “Here’s why. We make money this way because we attract and retain people for the long term, and we don’t have to go find new ones”. So I don’t want laws to require businesses to do this, but the reason more and more businesses are choosing to do this is that there is a bottom-line benefit to it.

RP   Yeah, great point and such an important one. You list on your website and in your book, some common myths, whether it’s about men in the workplace or regarding gender issues in general. Can you touch on some of the more common myths that you think are worth breaking open today?

JL   Sure. Here’s the big idea; that anti-dad myths are prejudice not just against men, they are prejudice against women. So the backward ideas of dads as incapable buffoons, irrelevant, not caring, they’re actually—I know it sounds backwards, but just follow me here – discrimination against women. They come from the exact same mentality that says women don’t belong in the workplace. Ha, ha, ha, a woman wants to be a doctor, a lawyer, an astrophysicist? Ha, ha, ha, she’s so incapable. Ha, ha, ha, a man wants to change diapers, care for his children, cook dinner? Ha, ha, ha, he’s so incapable. They came from the exact same Mad Men mentality.

What I’ve done is factcheck all this stuff. So the false idea that men are lazy at home, that we don’t do anything, well, men and women put in equal work hours when you combine paid work, unpaid work, and childcare. It ends up being the same amount. And I go through the data all the time to determine this. There aren’t a lot of people out there who are researchers at universities who have data where they say women do more work or men are lazy by comparison. And what happens is bosses in the workplace and leaders in Congress, in halls of power in the states, they believe this stuff. They believe this lie that men won’t do anything at home.

So their mentality is don’t give a man paternity leave. It’s all a crock. He’s not going to do anything. You want to make sure the man is productive, keep him in the office. Otherwise, he’s go home, crack open a beer, watch sports, wait for his wife to get home. So you want to make sure the man is productive? Keep him at the office. Let the woman stay home. She’ll actually do things at home. Therefore, they don’t give people choices. Women get stuck at home because they don’t have a choice; men get stuck at work because they don’t have a choice. So ending the false ideas about fathers is crucial for everyone.

RP   When I first read that and saw you make a few comments on that in some other videos, I’m starting to see those portrayals more than I ever really think I realized before.

JL   There’s this great line from Anne-Marie Slaughter when she and I both spoke at the same event and gave me a shout out. She said, “We women say things about men at home that if they said about us in the office, we would sue them.” And it’s true. I mean, men and women who engage in these stereotypes, who say all men are incapable and lazy at home, it’s factually false based on the data, and it’s bad for everyone.

RP   I think once people start thinking about that, they’ll realize that it’s probably more prevalent than they thought it was. I think there’s clearly a demonstrated bottom-line impact when it comes to turnover, retention, and many other metrics. Have you thought about the connection between general health and well-being and how some of these inequity issues might impact those feelings?

JL   Big time. That’s a perfect set up for your organization, and I appreciate it, even though you already know the answer because I have chapters on health and mental health in the book. Here’s the thing, these things are deeply connected. So let me give you the big picture, okay? People struggle with work-life conflict, and according to the studies, men have at least as much, if not slightly more, work-life conflict than women. Work-life conflict is not just some concept like, “Oh, I feel so conflicted.” It has psychological and physiological ramifications when people are out of balance; when they are struggling; when they are overwhelmed.

We have entire populations of people not getting enough sleep, feeling incredibly stressed all the time, feeling guilty all the time and not taking care of themselves because they’re trying to do so much in both places. Work-life balance is unnatural, right? This is my philosophy, but I think it’s just a fact. If you leave human beings alone in nature, we will love our children, our families, and we will work. We will forage to get food. We will build places to live. We live and we work. That’s just nature. So why are these things in conflict? Well, they’re in conflict because we have created an entire system, an entire society that does not allow for work-life balance. The concept behind Mad Men thinking is a different kind of work-life balance. The woman does all the life, the man does all the work.

But in real life, it doesn’t work that way. So we didn’t create structures in which one person is able have a life both at work and at home. So we’re operating against that. What we need, in order to address these things, is flexibility. We need way more options to work from home; telecommuting. We need to have different kinds of schedules. We need to address, in a real flexible mindset, making sure people can get their work done in the ways that work for them.

Now, there are some cases in which that won’t work. Teachers have to be at school certain hours, although our school schedules are a mess and wrong. Retail people, people in hospitals. Obviously, there’s certain jobs where you have to physically be there all the time. But in general, there are so many ways to create flexibility even within those jobs. Making three-day-a-week jobs available, two-day-week jobs. There are reasons to do all these things, and when you start focusing on integration, you help people with health. You help their mental health. You help decrease their stress. You help decrease their guilt. And that allows everyone to build healthier lives and set better examples for our kids.

RP   I think that’s a great segue, and I think what the area of focus that I want to make sure that people walk away is, it’s an issue. I know many people are in HR, and hopefully have the ability to influence decision-makers in the organization that can actually begin to start thinking about whether it’s policies or cultural change. What are some basic steps that anyone can take to begin to make a difference? What are some things that organizations broadly should be doing to change, to really help create more equity within the workplace?

JL   So it boils down to three things: laws, policies, and stigmas.

So on the laws, the number one thing we need is paid family leave, and it’s important to understand what it is.

Go to my website, joshlevs.com. You’ll learn a lot about it there. It’s hard not to get confused because there are people who use that term but don’t actually mean it. The Trump Administration as thrown that term around but never actually proposed paid family leave, and we don’t need to have all these meetings and complicated discussions. We already know what works. Several states have paid family leave. It’s increasing profits for businesses. It’s increasing the economy. It’s keeping people working. So all we need to do is take that and make it national. So we need a law, a bill called the Family Act. I’m part of a working group with the office of Senator Gillibrand, and we’re trying to make that happen. It certainly won’t happen under the current administration, but maybe in the next few years. So a law for national paid family leave.

And then we have policies at the business level that work. But basically, we need business to start treating men and women as equal caregivers. And when I filed my legal action with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), they sent out guidance to businesses everywhere saying here’s how it works. You can give physical recovery leave to women, of course, after a birth. But you have to clearly distinguish caregiving leave as a separate thing, and it has to be gender neutral. So businesses need to do that. Individuals need to push and make this happen. Push for the laws, push for the new policies, and start having conversations in the workplace in which everyone opens up about our work-life struggles, including men.

This is often the hardest thing. Men don’t want to talk about this stuff because we are convinced that we will mistakenly say something offensive or that women will say to us, who are you to talk? You man in patriarchy, who are you to talk about this kind of thing? But that’s not what happens. Time Warner ended up revolutionizing its policy at CNN after my case. You can make a difference when you speak out. People were incredibly supportive to me across all lines. So I tell people, open up, share your struggles, have these conversations, and work together for better laws and policies.

RP   So it sounds like what you’re saying is there’s kind of two paths that people can take.

JL   We all need to tackle it in a medium microcosm and in a broader macrocosmic way. And I always tell people, look, not everyone can take legal action and launch a national, global battle. I network with United Nations and businesses all over the world. I travel. I work with businesses to redo their policies. I work with organizations and government bodies. But in your own way, you can make a difference. And when HarperCollins had me do this book, All In, they said, “Look, Time Warner/CNN revolutionized this policy. You know how to make a big difference, so give us the steps”. So it’s written as a polemic. Just tell people here is what to do.

So in the book I give you steps: here is how to approach your organizations and get better, fair parental leave policies; here’s how to get flexibility going; here are steps you can take to make paid family leave happen on a national basis. And very often, as I travel around and do these talks, people ask me what they can do to help engage men around them in these conversations.

And I always say, don’t be afraid to ask about them about this stuff. Say to a man, in my family, we’re struggling with figuring out this situation because we have a kid who has these needs. And what about you? How do you do this? And you might find that he’ll be shocked to be asked, but he’ll take part in it. And the more that we all talk about it, the more open our communication becomes, the more our organizations have no choice but to address it.

RP   If I were to walk away today and there’s one thing that I can do to begin to make a difference, what would you suggest I do?

JL   Okay. The take of my book is All In but it’s a take-off of Lean In, and the idea from Sheryl Sandberg. The idea is this other side of to how to fix these problems with the man side. And so I want everyone to remember that women cannot lean in until women can be all in. So if there’s one thing that you can do is to make sure that you are doing everything it takes to have the amount of time you deserve with your family and with your life outside of work and extending that to the people around you. So take a look at your situation. Are you in an office in which bosses still have this old mentality that you should be sitting at your desk all the time? If so, talk to them about it and change that. And if they won’t change it, then leave. Go somewhere else.

The thing for you to do is to make sure that you get the kind of balance you deserve between work and life and that you extend those efforts to the people around you.

And when you face it with that mentality, you’re going to see clearly what the right steps are.

RP   Awesome. I think that that’s great advice. I really am thrilled you’re going to be at our Summit. Personally and professionally I think it is going to be so spot on having you there. What’s a message that you want people to walk away with here and from you in Philadelphia in August?

JL   We do not have the wellness that we deserve in our society. Our workplaces are unintentionally, in many cases, one of the biggest reasons; sometimes the biggest reason. What we don’t realize is the extent to which sexism and Mad Men-type of structures are fueling these problems. And when I talk there, I will help us diagnose this source that keeps these problems alive, and list the solutions that we can all take, specifically focused on wellness, mental health, physical health, all of it, to help men and women transform the way we live and work.

RP   I know we talked about where to get started, but what are some great resources? You have a website that’s an awesome place for people to get started if they want to learn more about your work and how to get involved. Is there anything else or any other places that you recommend people check out if they want to learn more or get involved?

JL   Yes. Watch the Zero Weeks documentary that we were talking about. And there’s this great organization, the National Partnership for Women and Families. They do a lot of really excellent work, and there’s also one called Family Values at Work. You’ll learn about both of these things if you see my website and see the documentary as well. These are all places that are taking big steps, that are helping show the way forward, that are tracking the developments at a policy level and at the level of laws. But there’s one more thing that I want everyone to do, alright?

My experience taught me that workers in this country don’t know our rights,

and one of the reasons that my legal case worked out, that I have this book, and that I have this entire effort, is that I knew my rights. I knew what rights I had. I knew that I could file an EEOC charge and that it’s illegal to get fired for it. There’s all these things that I knew. So in any situation, be empowered and take time to learn the legal rights even in right to work state like me, the legal right that any worker anywhere has. When you learn what your rights are, you’re actually helping your organization because you’re strengthening yourself to push your organization to make positive changes. You’ll become less afraid and more empowered, and we need an empowered workforce.

RP   I think that the last thing I’d say, I think what’s so important is that this isn’t about men, it’s not about women – it’s about people. And keep the people movement going. Hats off to you and your great work. I am looking forward to finally getting together with you in person in August (2019).

JL   You’re doing great work. I really appreciate the organization. And yeah, we’re going to have a great time at the event.

RP   Awesome. Thanks so much for our time, Josh.

JL   Thank you.


Josh Levs

Josh Levs

Entrepreneur and Top Global Expert on Issues Facing Modern Fathers at Work

Josh is the author of the award-winning book All In: How Our Work-First Culture Fails Dads, Families, and Businesses. Levs spent 20 years reporting for NPR and CNN, where he developed unique expertise on nonpartisan fact checking. He also created a role covering modern families and developed unprecedented expertise in assessing the realities of today’s dads. He now works with corporations, organizations, universities and more to build policies that support men as equal caregivers, a crucial step toward ensuring equal career opportunities to women. Levs lives in Atlanta with his wife and their three children.

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