File photo: Ohanian joins Facebook's Mark Zuckerberg as a prominent male tech executive taking parental leave. Picture: Reuters

Washington - When college roommates Alexis Ohanian and Steve Huffman cooked up the idea for Reddit, they weren't thinking about company culture or worker benefits. 

But now Ohanian, Reddit's executive chairperson and fiance of tennis champion Serena Williams, is taking full advantage of his company's new parental leave policy after welcoming a baby girl.

Ohanian joins Facebook's Mark Zuckerberg as a prominent male tech executive taking parental leave. The move illustrates how tech firms, after a flurry of coverage about their poor work-life balance, are working to change their tune as they - and their founders - age.

The work culture at these firms is notorious for demanding that employees throw their whole selves into work, said Ellen Bravo, co-executive director of the advocacy group Family Values @ Work.

A few years ago, then-Yahoo chief executive Marissa Mayer faced harsh criticism, twice, for taking less than a month of maternity leave after the birth of her children - but some saw it as a reaction to the pressure that women in tech face to devote their lives to their jobs.

Sheryl Sandberg, Facebook's chief operating officer, speaks often on the difficulty that women face balancing family and work. The social network was one of the first to offer 16 weeks of leave to new parents, including contractors. And in 2017, after Sandberg lost her husband, Facebook bolstered its bereavement leave and other family leave policies.

Reddit's head of people and culture, Katelin Holloway, crafted the firm's policy by drawing on her experience: While at a different tech firm, she found herself on a conference call while heading into the delivery room.

Reddit specifically has had a poor reputation for the way it treats its workers, particularly women. But when Huffman returned as chief executive in 2015, the company started to reshape its culture.

The leave policy is part of that. "For me, it's more than just the time," Ohanian said by phone a couple of weeks before his daughter's birth. Reddit also makes plans before the start of the parental leave to hand off responsibilities, to ensure that parents away from work can stay that way.

It may seem odd to laud men for finally speaking out on something women have said for years. But, Holloway said, it's important to have any high-level executive speak up - and to hammer home that paid leave for any parent supports a whole family. "I realized that supporting men was also supporting women," Holloway said.