Author: Michelle Travis

Don’t Forget the Dads of Daughters Who are True Allies for Equality

Calling out men for invoking their status as dads of daughters to get “a sexism free pass” is entirely appropriate. Representative Ocasio-Cortez did this brilliantly on the House floor when challenging Representative Yoho’s offensive use of his daughters to excuse his sexist tirade against Ocasio-Cortez on the Capitol steps.

The same well-founded backlash was levied against President Trump for invoking Ivanka to mask his anti-women agenda. It was levied against actor Matt Damon for invoking his daughters to condemn Harvey Weinstein after allegedly helping quash a story about Weinstein’s sexual misconduct. And it was levied against Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh for invoking his daughters as a shield against sexual assault allegations.

Using daughters as props and excuses is itself an act of sexism. It’s insulting to women. And it’s insulting to genuine male allies who take real action to support gender equality.

But let’s not forget that many of our genuine male allies were motivated to became advocates for gender equality because of their relationships with their daughters. These dads are our partners, and their work should not be discounted because of the offensive acts of a few fathers like Yoho.

Of course, having a daughter is neither necessary nor sufficient for becoming a male ally for gender equality. What’s necessary is awareness about sexism and a commitment to working for change. Men can gain these attributes in many ways—including learning from their daughters. That doesn’t make dads of daughters who are true male allies any less dedicated to the gender equality fight.

Yet these dads of daughters are sometimes criticized for not achieving empathy earlier or not becoming an advocate simply because it’s the right thing to do. Rather than critiquing these men for the source of their enlightenment, however, we should focus instead on partnering with them to accelerate progress.

Dads of daughters can be excellent first-line male recruits to the gender equality battle. When men have a daughter, they tend to become less supportive of traditional gender roles and more supportive of equal pay policies and sexual harassment enforcement. These tendencies have real-world benefits. Companies run by CEOs who are dads of daughters have smaller gender pay gaps than companies run by other men. Venture capital firms with senior partners who are dads of daughters are more likely to hire women partners than other VC firms. And executives who are dads of daughters are more likely to be outspoken women’s advocates than other male business leaders.

One reason that dads of daughters can be powerful gender equality advocates is because of a phenomenon known as “standing to speak.” Men often hesitate to become vocal supporters of women because they don’t feel it’s their place speak or they’re concerned about negative reactions. These concerns are well-founded. When people advocate for a position that appears at odds with their own self-interest—like men advocating for women—others often react with surprise, anger, and resentment. These reactions are reduced, however, if the speaker identifies a vested interest in the outcome.

This means that male advocates for gender equality can validate their advocacy by authentically invoking their father-daughter relationship. Being the dad of a daughter grants men “standing” to be effective gender equality advocates by allowing others not to discount their message because of the messenger. Since men tend to listen to other men, this makes dads of daughters particularly effective at engaging other male allies in gender equality conversations.

This means that not all invocations of a man’s “dad of a daughter” status are created equal. When a man invokes his daughters to excuse misconduct or mask inactivity on gender equality, we should call that out as a sexist act. But when a man acts to combat sexism and expand opportunities for girls and women, that effort should not be discounted because he was motivated by being the dad of a daughter.

[First published in the San Francisco Chronicle]

Dads For Daughters: Parenting Toward Gender Equality During a Pandemic

Today’s dads are raising confident, empowered daughters who believe they can achieve anything. In a recent survey, dads rated strength and independence among the top characteristics they want to instill in their daughters. But the world our daughters are entering is still profoundly unequal, with girls’ opportunities often limited by deeply-ingrained gender stereotypes. The good news is that engaged fathering holds enormous power for changing this reality. At the same that time that COVID-19 has brought tremendous challenges, it has also created unique opportunities for dads to parent toward gender equality in deeply influential ways.

When men have a daughter—particularly a firstborn daughter—they tend to become less supportive of traditional gender roles and more supportive of anti-discrimination laws, equal pay policies, and sexual harassment enforcement. These tendencies are having real-world benefits. Researchers have found, for example, that companies run by CEOs who are dads of daughters tend to have smaller gender pay gaps than companies run by other men, and executives who are dads of daughters are more likely to be outspoken women’s advocates than other male business leaders.

Here’s some even more exciting news: dads don’t have to be CEOs or executives to advance gender equality. Small daily actions can have very big benefits for our girls. That’s because gender equality starts at home, where dads have incredible opportunities to make a difference. During the pandemic—with schools and daycares shuttered, summer camps cancelled, and playdates indefinitely on hold—many dads have taken on greater childcare responsibilities and are spending more time with their kids than ever. This is a wonderful chance to think about how engaged fathering can also support gender equality and open doors for our daughters’ future. Here are some ways to get started.

Three Ways to Parent Toward Gender Equality

Children start internalizing gender stereotypes at a very early age. Societal messages, images, and modeling teach children gendered lessons about appropriate roles, behaviors, interests, activities, and careers on a daily basis. There are three ways that engaged dads can disrupt these pervasive messages and empower girls to pursue their own paths and dreams.

1. Model Shared Caregiving

One way that dedicated dads can advance gender equality is by modeling shared caregiving. If you have a spouse or partner, sheltering-at-home is a great time to talk openly with one another about more evenly distributing the daily work of parenthood. As co-equal partners, it’s also important for dads to model caring, not just caregiving. It’s ok to show empathy, compassion, emotion, fear, sadness, and vulnerability—traits that will also model healthy masculinity for our sons.

2. Be a Dadfluencer

A second way for dads to parent towards gender equality is to become “Dadfluencers” by publicly sharing their daddy love. Journalist Emily Dreyfuss coined this phrase to describe fathers who proudly share the joys and successes—as well as the struggles and mistakes—of being engaged parents. On Instagram, there are 3.7 million photos and videos tagged #dadlife that share images of men doing everyday parenting. By connecting with other men about fatherhood in positive ways, Dadfluencers are normalizing men’s caregiving role, which is a powerful form of gender equality work. “The more people see fathers actively fathering,” says Emily, “the more it becomes a normal part of society.”

3. Choose Activities that Challenge Gender Stereotypes

Another way for dads to actively disrupt gender role expectations is to engage daughters in activities that may spark interest in future careers that remain male-dominated. To fill the extra hours created by COVID-19, consider spending time with your daughter building something, selling something, doing a science experiment, playing or watching sports, competing fiercely at a video game, or debating a tough issue. These are not only enjoyable ways to spend time with your daughter, but they can also enable her to more easily see herself as a future engineer, entrepreneur, scientist, athlete, or politician.

Three Parenting Resources Created by Dads for Other Dads

Luckily, dads who want to use parenting time to disrupt gender role stereotypes have many fantastic resources at their disposal. Here are three top choices—all of which were created by dads who were seeking to empower their own daughters and open doors for our next generation of girls.

1. The STEAMTeam 5 Book Series

When Greg Helmstetter became aware of the societal messages undercutting young girls’ confidence in STEM, he searched for books, toys, and media to engage his own daughter, Kamea, in STEM-related activities. When he came up largely empty-handed, he decided to tackle the problem himself. He discovered that he could fuel Kamea’s interest in STEM skills by building them into their Barbie doll playtime. Instead of just changing outfits, Kamea was soon using her dolls’ “STEM superpowers” to solve challenges that Greg created, like rescuing animals, inventing new products, or launching an electric car company.

As word of Greg’s girl-powered doll-time spread through the playground network, parents began asking Greg where they could get copies of his adventure stories. Greg recognized a need for more girl-centered STEM media, so he turned his Barbie-time adventures into a book series titled, The STEAMTeam 5. These books follow a team of 5 diverse girls who work together to use their skills in science, technology, engineering, art, and math to help their neighbors, solve mysteries, and save the day. This book series is a wonderful way to empower girls to make a personal connection with STEM skills in a relatable way. “STEAMTeam 5 is much more than just a book,” Greg explains, “it’s a movement designed to get girls interested in STEM/STEAM from a very early age, and to keep them interested.”

2. Ella The Engineer Comics

Anthony Onesto is both a dedicated dad and a tech enthusiast. He became concerned when he saw a drop-off in the interest that his two young daughters, Ella and Nicolette, were showing for technology both at home and in school. This prompted him to look around his own tech company, where he was startled to realize that only 10 of 800 computer coders were women. “That was my ‘what now’ moment,” says Anthony. “How do we get more girls to get excited about coding?”

Anthony realized that building a stronger pipeline of women into tech careers required more engaging role models to get girls excited about technology. That inspired Anthony to create the Ella the Engineer comic book series—the first comic to feature a female tech superhero as the lead character. Ella the Engineer uses coding, hacking, and programming skills to solve relatable problems. She is helped along the way by her trusty computer Mack, her loyal tablet Tabby, and her smart-aleck iphone Smarty. Together they make an irresistible team that will encourage more girls to pursue their interest in technology.

3. The Startup Squad

When Brian Weisfeld’s oldest daughter was eight, she proudly donned her Girl Scout vest and marched down their driveway to sell her first batch of Girl Scout cookies. Brian saw a strong-willed girl who was full of enthusiasm—but who didn’t know the first thing about selling her products. He looked for children’s books and resources that teach girls entrepreneurial skills, but he found very little. This got him thinking about his own business career, and he realized that the dearth of women entrepreneurs was the result of powerful pressures that steered girls in other directions from an early age.

That’s when Brian created The Startup Squad, an initiative dedicated to inspiring girls to develop an entrepreneurial mindset. He launched his project with The Startup Squad book series, which profiles girls who tackle a variety of business challenges, like running a lemonade stand. Brian’s website also profiles real-life “girlpreneurs,” who have started businesses selling everything from candles to dog treats. The website also offers activity kits and business tip sheets on marketing, selling, and merchandising—perfect for a pandemic summer with lots of extra free time. Brian’s goal is to empower girls to believe in their abilities and chase their dreams with tenacity. “Because not every girl wants to be a princess,” Brian explains. “Some want to run the castle. Design the moat. Or break the glass slipper and open a company with better footwear.”

[First published on The Men’s List and on The Child Therapy List]

Can a Woman Write a Book for Men?

After seeing how my two daughters inspired my husband to become an outspoken advocate for gender equity, I became curious about the father–daughter relationship. I sensed that this relationship held unique power to build men’s empathy and engage male allies in the fight for women’s rights.

I was excited to discover that many dads of daughters are indeed stepping up as leaders to support girls and women in their homes, workplaces, and communities. Research has found, for example, that male CEOs with daughters have a smaller gender pay gap in their companies than in firms run by other men.

I saw a book in the making! I wanted to write a book that celebrated men who were motivated by their daughters to support gender equity. I wanted to write a book that was a call to action to other dedicated dads to get involved. I wanted to write a book that offered men resources and advice for how to get started.

In my initial excitement, it didn’t cross my mind that writing a book for a largely male audience would pose any particular challenges. I have conversations with men all the time, so how hard could it be?

Wise agents and seasoned editors quickly revealed my naiveté. After sending out my first batch of query letters, I was thrilled to get calls from agents who were drawn to the book’s concept. Yet none were willing to sign the project. They weren’t sure that a woman could write effectively for men. They were skeptical that men would be interested in reading advice from a woman.

Editors were similarly enthusiastic about the concept, but unwilling to jump on board. Their concern was more financial—they simply weren’t convinced that there were enough book-buying men to create a viable market.

Thankfully, I found a fantastic agent who believed in the project and knew that these challenges were surmountable. It turns out, he’s the dad of a daughter. I also found a progressive press with editors who don’t underestimate their male readers. With the support of David Fugate at Launchbooks Literary Agency and the team at Mango Publishers, I’m delighted to report that Dads For Daughters is now a reality.

I am grateful for all of the advice that I received along the way—including from the savvy skeptics who were generous enough to share their thoughts and enable me to approach this project with greater insight. Here are the lessons I learned about writing a book for men.

Start by Talking with Men. I began my research by interviewing dads of daughters with varied backgrounds, jobs, and roles. I was so touched to hear them speak candidly about how having a daughter had changed their view of the world. These conversations were invaluable in helping me understand men’s motivations, fears, and commitment to creating a better world for all of our daughters to thrive.

Share Men’s Stories. While interviewing dads for my research, I discovered than men are eager to hear stories of other men’s experiences. Yet I also discovered that many men are far less eager to share their own stories—particularly about gaining insight on gender equity. So I wrote Dads For Daughters in part to connect men with other men—as a conduit to share their important stories with each other.

Write with Curiosity. In writing Dads For Daughters, I realized that I had the opportunity to learn as much as I had to share. So I approached the book with an open mind, eager to discover what men were thinking about, feeling challenged by, and hoping to accomplish. The book raises as many questions as it answers, which I hope will launch many conversations between men and women about how to best support each other.

Write with Humility. Although the book includes resources and advice for how dads of daughters can get started in supporting gender equity in their everyday lives, I don’t purport to have all the answers. Dads For Daughters acknowledges the work/family demands that men are feeling, and it recognizes that adding women’s advocacy to their “to do” list can be daunting. So the book shares concrete advice from many experts and offers a wide range of realistic options for getting involved in ways both large and small.

Write with Gratitude. Although Dads For Daughters is a call to action, it’s also a celebration of what men can achieve as allies for girls and women. My deepest motivation for writing this book was appreciation for the impact that men can have in leveling the playing field for our next generation of girls.

Write as an Invitation. Most importantly, I wrote Dads For Daughters as an invitation to men to join the conversation about gender equity—a conversation in which they will be problem-solving partners. I wrote the book as an invitation to men to join forces with women and other male allies to learn, grow, share insights, and make progress together.

[First published on the San Francisco Writers Conference Blog]

How and Why Dads of Daughters Are Leaders in Women’s Advancement

Before Alexis Ohanian had his daughter, Olympia, he hadn’t thought much about family leave issues, even though he’d signed-off on a 16-week paid paternity leave policy as the co-founder of Reddit. After his wife, tennis superstar Serena Williams, faced serious medical complications during childbirth, Alexis realized the importance of having paid paternity leave. He used his entire 16-week allotment. He’s now become an outspoken advocate for the right to paid family leave—not just to support men who want to be engaged fathers, but also to support women’s workplace equality.

It turns out that Alexis’s experience is not unique. Many fathers are being inspired by their daughters to become leaders in advancing gender equality in their workplaces. When men have a daughter—particularly a firstborn daughter—they tend to become less supportive of traditional gender roles and more supportive of anti-discrimination laws, equal pay policies, and sexual harassment enforcement.

Even more exciting is that these tendencies are having real-world benefits. Researchers have found that companies run by CEOs who are dads of daughters tend to have smaller gender pay gaps than companies run by other men. Venture capital firms with senior partners who are dads of daughters are more likely to hire women into their partnership ranks than other VC firms. And executives who are dads of daughters are more likely to be outspoken women’s advocates than other male business leaders.

Of course, this doesn’t mean that having a daughter is either necessary or sufficient for becoming an effective male ally. All men have a stake in advancing gender equality, and many men are powerful allies without having daughters. But dads of daughters are often particularly motivated to recognize the need for advancing gender equality in their workplaces, and they are uniquely well-positioned to pick up the baton and start running.

3 Reasons Why Dads of Daughters Make Effective Gender Equality Leaders

1. Invoking your Status as the Dad of a Daughter Gives You “Standing” to Speak

Men sometimes hesitate to become vocal supporters of women’s advancement initiatives because they don’t feel that it’s their place to speak up or they’re concerned about negative reactions. Unfortunately, these concerns are not unfounded.

Researchers have discovered that when people advocate for a position that appears to be at odds with their own self-interest, others often react with surprise, anger, and resentment. These reactions go away, however, if the speaker identifies a vested interest in the outcome.

For men, this means that explicitly invoking your status as the father of a daughter can validate your participation in women’s advancement initiatives. In other words, being the dad of a daughter can grant men “standing” to advocate for gender equality in ways that allow others to listen and engage with an open mind.

2. Dads of Daughters are Effective Recruiters of Other Male Allies

Men tend to listen to other men, which makes dads of daughters particularly effective at engaging potential male allies in conversations about gender equality. A great way to get a male colleague’s attention is to ask him whether his workplace is somewhere he’d be comfortable having his daughter work. Ask him whether it’s a place he thinks his daughter could become a leader. If the answer to these questions are “no,” that opens the door for more concrete discussions about making workplace changes.

The power of dads engaging other men is the fuel behind the highly effective Male Champions of Change, which brought together a group of male CEOs in Australia who are committed to regularly conducting gender diversity audits at their firms and publicly sharing their progress. As the MCC’s creator Elizabeth Broderick explains, “[t]his isn’t going to change until you get men taking the message of gender equality out to other men.”

3. Having Daughters Builds the Empathy Skills Needed for Effective Leadership

Being the dad of a daughter is one proven way to build men’s empathy for women in their workplaces. This is particularly the case when men learn from their own daughters’ experiences of sex discrimination, gender bias, and work/family conflict.

These experiences empower men to look more carefully at the external barriers to women’s success at their own firms, rather than assuming that a shortage of women leaders is due to a lack of interest, skill, or commitment. As executive coach Susan Bloch explains, “[d]aughters are educating their fathers that they deserve a seat at the leadership table.”

3 Ways that Dads of Daughters Can Get Started

If you’re a father who’s inspired by your daughter to become a stronger male ally for women in your workplace, here are three ways you can begin having an impact.

1. Take the Dads4Daughters Implicit Bias Test

A great place to start is to take the online Dads4Daughters Implicit Bias Test designed by Split Second Research. Modeled after Harvard University’s Implicit Association Test, this tool helps us detect the strength of our unconscious gender biases. By measuring how strongly we automatically associate various attributes with males and females, the test helps us recognize how gendered beliefs can affect our workplace decision-making, even when we’re genuinely committed to women’s advancement.

After taking the online test, dads of daughters receive a tailored list of suggested action items to help address particular areas of bias. Some of the action items include pledging to mentor or sponsor a female colleague, ensuring that women get equal speaking time at meetings and full credit for their ideas, and setting specific goals for diversifying candidate pools. The test is part of a larger Dads4Daughters program launched by St Paul’s Girls’ School in collaboration with the UNWomen’s #HeForShe campaign.

2. Join the YWomen’s Father of a Daughter Initiative

Another step for dads of daughters who want to become stronger allies for women is to join Jeffery Tobias Halter’s Father of a Daughter Initiative. Jeffery is the founder and President of YWomen, a strategic business consulting firm that engages men in advancing women’s leadership. Jeffery is also the dad of a daughter, which helped him recognize how that relationship can be a powerful spur to action.

Dads can join the initiative by taking the Father of a Daughter Pledge, which asks dads to commit to specific actions for recruiting, retaining, and advancing women in their workplaces. Some of the action items include pledging to support workplace flexibility, encouraging female colleagues to take stretch assignments, distributing office “housework”—e.g., note-taking, planning meetings, and training new employees—equally to men and women, and having conversations with male colleagues about the importance of women’s leadership.

More information about the link between women’s leadership and business success is available in Jeffery’s book, WHY WOMEN: The Leadership Imperative to Advancing Women and Engaging Men.

3. Sign the Pledge for Paternity Leave

Another way that dads of daughters can become leaders on women’s advancement is by supporting paid paternity leave policies and paid family leave laws. Equalizing men’s and women’s caregiving roles is one of the most important steps to equalizing women’s opportunities at work.

This is harder than it sounds because men often face even greater stigma from taking family leave than women, including retaliation and career deceleration. Journalist Josh Levs has documented these challenges in his eye-opening book, All In: How Our Work-First Culture Fails Dads, Families, and Businesses—And How We Can Fix It Together. Yet despite men’s quite rational “career fear,” Alexis Ohanian is one dad of a daughter who believes that the benefits of taking paternity leave far exceed the costs.

Alexis and Josh have joined forces with Dove Men+Care to advocate for paid paternity policies and family leave laws. Dads of daughters can support this effort by signing the Pledge for Paternity Leave. The pledge asks new dads to commit to taking their full leave time. It asks other male allies to share the positive impacts of paternity leave with public officials and others. And it asks male business leaders to enact paternity leave policies to bolster work/family balance for women and men alike.


For dads of daughters who want to learn more about becoming stronger male allies for women’s equality, you can find additional inspiring stories of engaged fathers, along with data, resources, and advice for getting involved, in Michelle A. Travis’ book, Dads For Daughters: How Fathers Can Give Their Daughters a Better, Brighter, Fairer Future, which is coming out in January from Mango Publishers. The book is available for pre-order on Amazon.

[First posted on The Way Women Work]

Back to Work

Back to Work

Frustrated when she couldn't find a children's book to explain her return to work to her young kids, a law professor wrote her own

Michelle Travis relished spending time with her two daughters during her maternity leaves, but she also looked forward to returning to her job as a USF law professor. When it was time for Travis to go back to work, she searched for children’s picture books that might help her daughters with the transition.
“I was looking for something that painted working moms in a positive and inspiring light, that would help my kids be curious about the work I did outside the house, and encourage them to be proud of that work,” said Travis, who focuses her teaching and research on employment law, employment discrimination, and work/family balance.
But in a search that she called “both frustrating and illuminating,” Travis discovered that most books painted working mothers in a negative light, focusing on how children could cope without their mother present during the day, as if the mother’s job was a detriment. Travis says she even found a few books where the working mother was a witch, as opposed to having a real-life job.
The experience stayed with her as her daughters grew, and as she witnessed her USF law students balancing school and eventual careers with motherhood. So she decided to write a book of her own to change the narrative.

Changing the conversation

Travis’ picture book, My Mom Has Two Jobs, published in July 2018, depicts how moms care for their children while also making the world a better place through their careers. The book features a range of occupations, such as doctors, engineers, police officers, secretaries, and waitresses, as well as diverse ethnicities.
The book is called, My Mom Has Two Jobs. On each page, children proudly describe how their moms care for them in a special way, while also improving the world through their careers. The book includes moms in many different jobs, including a doctor, teacher, engineer, police officer, secretary, dentist, firefighter, nurse, lawyer, waitress, military sergeant, veterinarian, and pilot. I hope that the book will give moms the chance to talk with their kids about whatever job they do.
“As a lawyer and law professor, I believe that the law is a very powerful tool in advancing women’s equality, but I realized that I need to get to children before our stereotypes about working moms are fully established and start disrupting that,” Travis said.
“From her own experience and research, Travis knows that working moms are more likely to be passed over for promotions or seen as less competent by colleagues at work. Outside the office, they deal with guilt for how they balance work and motherhood, as well as perceived judgment from people who think they should be with their children full time.

Supporting other working moms

In the law school, Travis is an adviser to the Parents and Advocates Law Student Association (PALSA), a group that aims to make law student parents and their children feel welcome on campus and promote parental/familial rights and support.
Lizett Rodriguez ’18 — who carried her sleeping daughter to lectures after giving birth during her second year of law school — was one of the founding members of PALSA. She says she looks up to Travis as both a lawyer and a mom.
“When my husband and I were thinking about having a child, I actually spoke to her and asked when the right time was,” Rodriguez said. “And she told me that there is no perfect time, and it is different for everyone. Professor Travis inspired me and told me, ‘Don’t let anybody tell you that you can’t do something because you are a woman of color, or because you decide to take on motherhood.’”
Today, Rodriguez is a fellow with California Rural Legal Assistance, a nonprofit that supports migrant workers and the rural poor, in her hometown of Watsonville, California. And her daughter, Lexie, is a thriving 2-year-old who loves Travis’ book.
[First posted at University of San Francisco]