Attending the Diversity & Flexibility Alliance’s (DFA’s) Annual Meeting in Washington, DC, last week inspired me to write this letter to all employers. If you’re an organization wanting to take that next step toward more equitable and fair parental leave policies, please consider these arguments and advice.
You’ve made great strides over the past few years in keeping the needs of working parents in mind.
Many of you have increased the number of weeks of paid leave you offer to your employees. Some of you have de-gendered your parental leave policies by granting leave to all parents and eliminating the “primary caregiver” distinction. Onboarding, phased-in ramp-ups, and re-entry programs are now more common. And many of you offer your new employees some incredibly helpful perks like Milk Stork, back up childcare, and the Mindful Return program. For these efforts, we parents thank you.
This progress is indeed commendable. We’ve come a long way. And as workplaces that believe in continuous improvement both for your employees and for your organization as a whole, I know you’re always looking for new ways to stretch, grow, and generally make the world a better place.
Here’s my next challenge to you, to help move the needle yet one step further: fully embrace (and change policies and practices to reflect) the idea that parents are parents are parents.
What do I mean by this? I urge you to challenge yourselves to become workplaces where all new parent employees in your company have the same access to new parent recovery, baby bonding time, and parental support, no matter the employee’s rank, title, or tenure.
At the DFA Annual Conference in Washington, DC, last week, this topic came up and prompted much conversation. At the conference, DFA presents its Flex Impact Award for employers’ initiatives that are “poised to have a significant impact on the culture of workplace flexibility.” One of the awardees being honored was White & Case, a law firm that was being honored for its “new gender-neutral parental leave policy that eliminates the primary and secondary caregiver designation and is also offered to both attorneys and staff.”
The firm’s policy allows all parents to take 12 weeks of leave any time within 12 months following the birth, adoption or foster placement of a child. By extending the same benefits to attorneys and staff members, no matter the level or position, White & Case has been able to foster a more inclusive environment and demonstrate its commitment to supporting all of its employees.
“We try to foster an environment of inclusion and support at the firm, and ensuring everyone has the opportunity to spend significant time with their new child is one way that we can do that,” said David Koschik, member of the firm’s Executive Committee. “Everyone at the firm works very hard and deserves time with their families and loved ones. While it’s a departure from how many professional services firms do business, we are committed to the idea that every person at every level at White & Case be able to participate in a program like this one.”
(Emphasis is mine.)
Concrete Steps I Urge Employers To Take
Is your company committed to improving its parental leave policies and support for parents in 2019? Are you looking for concrete action steps? If so, here are a few I recommend.
If your company:
- Still only offers maternity leave and not gender-neutral parental leave, by all means, please, please reconsider.
- Offers less paid leave to dads than to moms, please reconsider.
- Has a primary caregiver distinction built into your parental leave policy, please reconsider.
- Offers different amounts of paid leave to different “classes” of employees, please reconsider.
- Requires a “waiting period” before becoming eligible for parental leave, please reconsider.
- Bars a certain “class” of employees from joining company parent affinity groups, please reconsider.
Arguments, Should You Need Them, To Do the Right Thing
Professions (like law and medicine) with long histories have embedded traditions that can be hard to change. Even with the time is ripe for doing so. Should your company polices not reflect the equality you aspire to, here are a few arguments you can feel free to run with as you advocate for change:
- Regardless of position, individuals at your company are building their professional careers with you. They are making your organization stronger, better, and more competitive. Yes, even if they’re not “located” in company revenue centers.
- Ask why a so-called “waiting period” makes sense for parental leave policies to take effect. Is a new parent somehow more worthy of recovering from childbirth or bonding with baby simply by virtue of having been at a company say 12 months, instead of 11? Why is parental leave something that must be “earned”?
- If there is push-back on having so-called “support staff” join a professional affinity group, consider having a separate round-table conversation or event focused on issues that are specific to that certain professional group. For example, if you are a law firm, and there are new parenthood issues specific to attorneys that attorneys wish to discuss, have a separate conversation about those topics. (Thank you, Manar Morales, for this great tip.) But include all parents in the parent affinity group.
- Appeal to a sense of justice. Separate but equal isn’t okay under the law, generally speaking. Why is it okay in our benefit policies or professional advancement groups? Can you imagine a state’s mandatory paid leave law saying “if you work for company X and you’re a lawyer, you get 6 weeks of paid leave, but if you’re a marketing professional, you only get 4?”
- Analogize to other benefits that cover all employees. Can you imagine providing a dental insurance option only to one group of your employees? When we have teeth, they need to be cared for. When humans have babies, we, too, need time to recover and care for our children.
- Peer pressure! (White & Case is doing it!)
- Retention, retention, retention. Even if you don’t make these changes because they’re the right thing to do, they certainly make good business sense. A parent employee who feels like her or his needs have been accommodated during this major life transition is one heck of a loyal employee.
To Sum Up
I will end where I started: by recognizing the great strides so many employers have been making over the past few years. And, like all Type A perfectionists, I’ll pause for celebration only for a moment. And then push to take the next steps toward moving the needle yet again. After all: parents are parents are parents.
Thank you for considering upping your parental support game in 2019.
If you need more help getting your head in a better place to return to work after maternity leave, join us for the next session of Mindful Return.
Want more practical tips on working parenthood? Check out my book, Back to Work After Baby: How to Plan and Navigate a Mindful Return from Maternity Leave.