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Alexis Ohanian on push for paid paternity leave and leadership in tech

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Alexis Ohanian, Venture Capitalist, Founder of Seven Seven Six & Co-Founder and Former Executive Chairman of Reddit, joins Yahoo Finance to discuss the push for paid parental leave and the state of the tech industry.

Video Transcript

[MUSIC PLAYING]

ALEXIS CHRISTOFOROUS: The United States is alone among wealthy countries in its lack of a national paid leave program. Instead, we've got a patchwork of federal, state, and local policies. But our next guest is working to change that. Alexis Ohanian is the founder of Seven Seven Six and co-founder and former executive chair of Reddit. And he joins us over the phone.

Alexis, always good to have you here on Yahoo Finance. So look, you've been a longtime advocate of national paid leave. For those who don't know, when your daughter Alexis Olympia was born, you took four months off. Not a lot of Americans can do that. Before we get into the specifics, just why do you think it's taken so long for the US to get up to speed when it comes to parental paid leave with the rest of the world?

ALEXIS OHANIAN: Well, Alexis-- and great to be on here and chatting with you-- you know, it's complicated because the United States is a country that talks about family values as a priority, both parties do. This country, I think, culturally talks a lot about valuing family and it being the bedrock of society. And I think the talk is finally running out for more and more Americans who realize that we are owed this opportunity.

When a new life comes into our families, that is the most crucial time for both parents to be able to be there and a part of it. And no-- no parent should have to choose between being with their newborn and their partner or saving their career. And I was lucky because, you know, I ran the company.

I, you know, took full advantage of the policy that we had at Reddit. But so many Americans, and especially so many men, don't have the opportunity for parental leave or paternity leave, and that needs to change. And I think the government now has a chance to step up and give the people what we want.

KARINA MITCHELL: And Alexis, thank you. I'm going to be the Karina that interjects between the two other Alexises.

ALEXIS OHANIAN: Sure.

KARINA MITCHELL: Thank you so much for being here. I wanted to ask you, so you--

ALEXIS OHANIAN: Yeah, my pleasure.

KARINA MITCHELL: --partner with Dove on this sort of initiative for parental leave. Tell me why you decided to do it and describe the partnership, if you will.

ALEXIS OHANIAN: Sure. I've been working with Dove [INAUDIBLE] to advocate for parental leave since 2019. And we first introduced this pledge for paternity leave. We had thousands of parents sign. We brought their stories to Congress. I mean, we literally went to Congress, met with members of the House and the Senate, not just me, but also other dads who either had or didn't have the opportunity to get paternity leave themselves, and brought those stories.

And it made a heck of a difference. You know, in the wake of that, we actually got 12 weeks of paid family leave for all federal employees signed into law. And that was, I think, the start of some momentum that will hopefully culminate this year as we get this not just for federal employees, but for all Americans.

ALEXIS CHRISTOFOROUS: But you know, when you think about certainly there has to be a legislative effort here, Alexis, but also, what needs to happen in terms of the way society views parents taking time off? Because I think there's this sort of unspoken idea that you are super parent if you can come back to the office quicker, you know, after having your baby.

ALEXIS OHANIAN: Yeah. Yeah. And we need to dispel that myth. And part of that is from, let's say, type A business leaders, like myself, showing that actually, no, what's most important is to make sure that the home front, the castle, is secure and sound before you can even consider doing your best work. And I know for all of my employees, I push them, especially the men, to take this time because that's what's going to ultimately change the culture.

And you're right, yes, parents, men and women, must feel empowered to take leave. And this needs to get normalized. And certainly, women bear the higher sort of brunt of this today in the workplace. It shouldn't be a liability just to have a uterus in America. It really should be something that every new parent sees an opportunity to take, even and especially the men.

And I think the way this changes is, in particular, more and more men normalizing it, more and more men talking about it. And what excites me is that this new generation of male CEOs, in particular, that we invest in and back at Seven Seven Six, they are more motivated and more aware than ever about not only providing this for their employees, but then taking advantage of it and talking about it.

And look, how many of us have been on Zoom calls in the last couple of years and had our kids barge in or dropped in, maybe not always on live television like that guy on the BBC, but even that normalization makes a difference. No one of us who has a child can really say that there is a gulf or a barrier between work and life. It blurs. And this is the most crucial moment in welcoming a new member to the family that we want-- we need every American to have to be able to have access to paid leave.

KARINA MITCHELL: And I feel like I may be the anomaly here or the crazy person in the room because I had my child, I remember, 10 weeks early. She was in ICU for six of those weeks. And I was begging my boss, please let me come back to work because I just wanted some normalcy in my day.

But you know, it was great to have that flexibility and obviously be offered the time to take as much time as I needed to be at home with my child, obviously. I wanted to ask you in this sort of worker-driven economy job market right now, how important is it to offer parental leave when employers are looking at recruiting people for jobs?

ALEXIS OHANIAN: Well, so it is vital. Offering paid leave has been-- it's become table stakes in the tech industry where the talent war is the most fierce. And you know, my founding partner here at Seven Seven Six, Katelin Holloway, she was our head of People and Culture at Reddit and created that policy that I ended up taking.

We know now for anyone trying to attract the best and the brightest and retain them, you need to have this policy. Now, that's great for companies that are-- you know, that have millions-- hundreds of millions of dollars, lots of money to invest in their employees. Small businesses, though, are such a crucial part of the economy. They don't have the access necessarily to those kinds of dollars. And that's why a federal policy is so important because it's going to lead to healthier outcomes for all.

And I want to say this, look, I say none of this to your personal story, I want every American to have the option. And I really do think that, at the end of the day, it's not the prescribed you have to take the time. And more importantly, it's to give the peace of mind and the flexibility. And I've had employees who have had their third kid and they say, look, you know what, Alexis, to be honest, like, we got this. Like, I'll take a few weeks off, and then we're going to be fine.

But I still push them and say, look, at least consider taking off every Friday after that and work a four-day workweek or whatever, again, whatever works for you and your family. But you can use this time flexibly. And just that little bit of difference gives your family more freedom. It gives your partner a day of support. It gives whatever. It gives you optionality. And no one's going to miss you if you take, let's say, that one day out of the week.

Like, it's changing the mindset around it being this binary thing that also, I think, this will accomplish because I mean, that's exactly how I thought, actually, until I got presented with building our paid leave strategy. And I was like, OK, this makes a lot of sense for folks. And it's that opportunity.

Because at the end of the day, I don't think there's a single one of us in this country who wants an American to have to choose between their kid and their partner and a paycheck. That decision, it is-- to be put in that place is not something I think any American should want because families really are the bedrock. And we deserve to make sure everyone has that opportunity.

ALEXIS CHRISTOFOROUS: Absolutely. Hey, look, Alexis, since we have you here, I got to ask you a couple of tech questions--

ALEXIS OHANIAN: Yeah.

ALEXIS CHRISTOFOROUS: --quick. I know--

ALEXIS OHANIAN: Ask me anything.

ALEXIS CHRISTOFOROUS: --there's been a lot of-- a lot a lot of reports out there that Reddit, the company you co-founded, is getting closer to becoming- you know, going public. We don't know for sure yet. And I know that in 2020, they had revenue of $170 million, still not profitable yet. But they're looking at being valued at upwards of $10 million. What's your thought on-- or billion dollars-- sorry, excuse me-- $10 billion. What's your thought on Reddit going public and also at that valuation?

ALEXIS OHANIAN: You know, I'm going to give you a giant no comment on that one. Look, I will say in the wake of my resignation last June, I was really heartened to see, you know, the company respond by banning, I think, 3,000 hate communities by honoring my request to be replaced by a Black director. Like, I think those changes aren't as good for society. They're good for business. They're good for the bottom line.

And seeing the company's revenue growth since then as a result, it makes me so happy to see. So I think, you know, I can't comment on any IPO plans. I do think, at the end of the day, you know, we've reached a new era in the last year as more and more people realize the power of community. And I just want to see it live up to the best of what community can do. And yeah, optimistic to see that happen.

ALEXIS CHRISTOFOROUS: And would love to get your thoughts on Facebook. You know, it's been a tough few weeks. We had that whistleblower go before Congress to shed some light on problems internally there at Facebook. We've also got-- they had a worldwide outage of Facebook and a lot of its apps.

You know, a lot of people talk about Facebook being like sort of the Teflon company. It keeps bouncing back. What about this time, does this time feel different? And do you think maybe it's time for CEO Mark Zuckerberg to step aside and allow new management?

ALEXIS OHANIAN: There's a lot there. With regard to your observation about the Teflon company, I do think-- look, regulators are at an inherent disadvantage when they don't understand the technology that they seek to regulate. And you know, we saw it again recently with, I think it was a senator or congressman asking about finsta accounts as though they were a product.

This makes the rounds in tech. Those are fake Instagram accounts. So anyone can create one that you use as, like, an alternate account. It's not your real name. It's like a pseudonym or what have you. Like, there is such a gulf between the folks who understand the technology and the folks who are regulating it, in almost all cases, which presents a really big challenge. Because a well-intentioned regulation can have really unintended consequences that don't actually solve the problem.

And so at the risk of sounding a bit sort of cynical about it, I don't think-- I just don't know what will actually change from a regulatory or enforcement standpoint. I do think the greatest leverage, though, is from the market. We're already seeing-- I mean, we are already backing companies that are, like, principally opposed to the sort of culture that Instagram has created, companies like Dispo, where the goal is you take a photo and then you go back to living in the moment because you can't see it until the next day. And it's not about taking 100 perfect photos to Photoshop, make it look amazing just to impress a bunch of strangers who don't actually care-- Instagram. And I do think that momentum is actually going to end up moving a lot faster.

And with regard to Zuck, I mean, I think it-- what, does that come down to the shareholders voting? I don't know. One thing I would like to see broadly is-- it disappoints me when leaders lead by reacting as opposed to making hard decisions and actually leading from the front lines as opposed to just being reactive to press cycles or outcry or what have you. And it is hard. It is really hard. We're in territory that I don't think any of us expected.

You know, I started Reddit in 2005. [? Things ?] got started in 2003. Like, we were building things that we thought we would like and other college kids like us would like. And the reality is, it's having much bigger implications on far more people than we ever expected. And part of that comes with the responsibility. And that's the part that I think every one of us is a bit fed up-- or a lot of us are fed up with seeing leaders react instead of lead and actually make hard choices that are, you know, accepting the reality of what an impact these platforms have.

ALEXIS CHRISTOFOROUS: Yeah. Well, it's certainly going to continue to shake out over the weeks and months ahead. But from one Alexis to another, I thank you for spending time with us and sharing your thoughts. Alexis Ohanian, thank you.

ALEXIS OHANIAN: Oh, thank you, Alexis. Appreciate you having me.

ALEXIS CHRISTOFOROUS: Next time we'll have him on camera. All right. Have a good weekend.

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