Shattering Stereotypes: Cisco’s New Parental Leave Policy

It may take a village to raise a child, but based on many parental leave policies, apparently it only takes a mother to raise a newborn baby. According to research by Deloitte, 64 percent of workers believe that women and men should receive the same amount of parental leave. But 54 percent think that men would be viewed negatively by their colleagues for taking an equivalent amount of time off.

These sorts of stereotypes could explain why there were only 32 women CEOs in the Fortune 500 last year.

However, some companies, like Cisco, are determined to do away with labels that pigeonhole parents and other caregivers. “Our senior leadership launched a bold initiative two years ago to make meaningful difference in the moments that matter most to employees,” says Ted Kezios, senior director of global benefits at Cisco. “We know that the best talent comes from an inclusive environment and culture where we celebrate diverse backgrounds and families.”

A Gender-Neutral Parental Leave Policy

The company has created a gender-neutral parental leave policy. “At Cisco, we do what’s right, and not what’s easy,” Kezios says. “The easiest policies are the traditional ones that give time based on whether the employee is a birth mom or a new dad.” But traditional policies don’t acknowledge that the main caregiver might not be the traditional caregiver.

“Recognizing that families are diverse is why we offer employees the ability to take paid time away based on their caregiver role, not based on their gender.”

Going Beyond the Nuclear Family

Cisco also changed its parental leave policy to include grandparents and other caregivers. “Launching a new parental leave policy, globally, to establish minimum time away regardless of caregiver role, was one way we chose to celebrate and support our families,” Kezios says. “That’s why Cisco offers employees welcoming a new child into their family the opportunity to take time away based on their caregiver role rather than their biological relationship.” Enhancing the moments that matter is part of what Cisco calls Our People Deal. “It’s the culture we create together, every day,” Kezios says.

How long is caregiving leave at Cisco? It depends on whether the employee functions in a main or supporting caregiver role. “A main caregiver is defined as the person who assumes the most responsibility, regardless of gender, in the direct caring of the child immediately following birth or adoption,” Kezios says. “A supporting caregiver is there when it’s most needed to provide support to their spouse or partner and to bond with their new child.”

The company provides a global minimum of 13 weeks of paid time off for the main caregiver, although it may be longer in some places. “For example, in the U.S., the birth mom receives 13 weeks after her pregnancy disability period ends,” he says. For a supporting caregiver, the company provides 4 paid weeks, to be taken within the first 6 months of the child’s birth or adoption.

Emergency Time Off

In addition to parental leave, Cisco’s Our People Deal also includes extra time off for emergencies. “Being there for employees in the moments that matter to them is part of the fabric of our company,” Kezios says. With emergency time off available, he says, “we can be sure that all Cisco employees are supported fairly and consistently in the case of a serious, unexpected situation.”

In the event of an emergency, the last thing the company wants is for employees to be worrying about their PTO or vacation balance, Kezios says. “Emergency time off gives employees the flexibility to be where they need to be when it matters most.”