Meet the Millennial Men Behind Family Friendly Startups

Young father carrying baby and holding briefcase.
Photo illustration by Slate. Photo by Thinkstock.

Too often, our biggest and most established corporations seem not to hear the call for better work-life balance millennials are singing loud and clear. Young women entrepreneurs and professionals have been pushing the needle on workplace flexibility for decades, but recently, men too have been joining the conversation. While much has been made of the leadership of male CEOs like Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg and Bank of America’s Brian Moynihan in promoting paternity leave, there are many smaller tech startups making similar inroads.

So great is the recognition of the need for more flexible, accommodating workplaces that a new app from Werk, FlexMatch, even allows companies to diagnose the risk that they may lose talent or may already be suffering from reduced productivity due to a lack flexible work policies. Newer, smaller startups are making parental, personal and familial needs a priority from day one. And this is not simply a reaction to feared competition from other companies doing it better, but reflects a core value these companies hold.

Scott Behson, professor of management at Fairleigh Dickinson University, says this is symptomatic of larger generational priorities in business. “More startups are committed to making money and doing social good. Often born with an eye toward doing something better for the world, these founders care much more about family and caring for employees than past generations. Millennials are about creating workplaces of shared priorities—a place where one can live a balanced life and help employees too.” A Paychex survey of 257 business owners, CEOs, and founders, found that more millennials support paid leave policies than older business owners: 71 percent of millennial business owners polled support mandatory paid leave, while just 59 percent of those aged 35–49 and 32 percent of those 50 and older did so.

According to Pew Research, millennials make up 31 percent of the adult U.S. population, and just over a third (34 percent) of the U. S. workforce. And, according to a 2015 survey, Millennials not only feel good about their parenting, but they seem to be having more fun with it than older generations as well. They were more likely to say that parenting is rewarding (58 percent) and enjoyable (52 percent) all the time than were Gen X parents (51 percent and 39 percent) or baby boomer parents (46 percent and 39 percent).

In 2014, Navid Rastegar, 32, launched FitBliss, a wellness company that applies data use for personal health benefits. With just four employees, he has been able to successfully use artificial intelligence and machine learning to create personalized solutions to simply promote better health and well-being within an organization. When one FitBliss employee lost a parent in India, meaning one-fourth of his staff would be gone to mourn and take care of family, Rastegar was empathetic and comforting. He treated his employee “the way I would want to be treated”—simply put, “the core value of FitBliss is the Golden Rule.” He gave the employee two weeks off to travel to India and heal.

Navid recruits employees with an eye toward hiring the best talent and maintaining the “correct vibe” with the organization. Fitting in with FitBliss’ culture of work-life balance is the first priority and one he says will not bend on.

Vic Drabicky, a Dallas-based father of two and founder of January Digital, has shown an ongoing commitment to making “whole-life” needs a priority from day one of founding his company. To Drabicky, “This is the personality of the company, we’re not here just to make money–we want to do good work and enjoy each other.”

Drabicky, like so many of the millennial men I interviewed, were quite focused on the adaptability of their policies and culture.

“You constantly have to tweak at it—it never quite settles. We hire adults and trust them to do what is right, whatever that is—no questions asked. I cannot possibly anticipate what is coming, so it’s easier to react to real-life scenarios. Case in point, from a recent exchange with an employee: ‘My brother just overdosed. I need to deal with the hospital and help him into rehab.’ ” And that was fine. To Vic, “It is our job to support and care for each other. I’d rather skew on that side first and figure out business details later.”

Simon Isaacs, founder of Fatherly, an organization providing advice on all aspects of fatherhood, has 50-plus employees, three of whom are currently expecting babies. Their work-life policies include eight weeks of parental leave and high levels of flexibility. Isaacs leaves the office each day at 5:15 p.m. to get his 2-year-old daughter Kaia ready for bed. His is an example that is embraced across the Fatherly franchise. I asked Isaacs why this broader shift is underway: “This is a generation of people who live and work values, more than any generation before. This defines them—plus, they are having all the babies.”

Isaacs adds, “Being part of a family has never been cooler.”

As I exchanged emails with Isaacs about the policies he’s put in place at Fatherly, he wrote suddenly saying that his wife was going into labor and our interview would have to end. He was excited and completely collected. He was secure in the knowledge that this was another opportunity to lead by example and show his employees the value he and Fatherly placed on creating well rounded family lives.

His is a family born into a new reality of priorities in the workplace—thanks in part to both millennial men and women who traced this new work-life roadmap.

*Correction, Jan. 24, 2018: This post originally incorrectly identified Vic Drabicky as Vic Dracaby.