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]

Finally, a Children’s Picture Book that Celebrates Working Moms!

     At the end of my maternity leaves, I found myself dealing with very conflicting emotions. On one hand, I felt scared and guilty about leaving my two young daughters with someone else. On the other hand, I was looking forward to getting back to teaching future attorneys in my wonderful job as a law professor. Of course, that feeling itself induced another wave of guilt as I wondered how I could help my kids understand what it means to be a working mom.
     Both of my daughters adored books. Books were how I launched conversations, shared new ideas, inspired them to ask questions, and fueled their curiosity. So at the end of each maternity leave, I searched for children’s books that could help us talk about my return to work. I was looking for books that would encourage my daughters to be proud of the work that I do outside our home and that would help them connect my mommy identity with my professional identity.
     My search was both frustrating and illuminating. I found quite a few children’s picture books about working moms that seemed to assume that kids must be sad and lonely while their moms are at work, and that offered various ways for kids to cope until their moms returned home each day (which didn’t do much to allay my feelings of guilt). I also found a lot of books about witches, which seems to be the working-mom prototype when it comes to children’s literature. Needless to say, neither of those book categories had quite the message I was seeking.
     So I vowed to write my own children’s book to fill the void. I wanted my book to celebrate diverse working moms doing a wide range of jobs. I wanted my book to show how the work that women do as moms is connected to the work that we do outside the home—that we care for our children and our societies with the same love, dedication, and commitment.
     But despite good intentions, my own two jobs took over and the idea of writing a children’s book got pushed to the back burner. Somehow, a decade passed. But the idea kept nagging at the back of my brain, and I’ve finally made good on my vow. I just published my first children’s book, which celebrates working moms for all that we do both inside and outside of our homes.
     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.
     My daughters are now twelve and ten, well beyond their picture-book years. But they have enthusiastically supported this project. For all the working moms who still have little ones at home and who are searching for a children’s book to help their kids celebrate all of our many important jobs, this book is for you.
[First appearing on the WoMo Network]