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60 Percent of U.S. Companies Still Don’t Offer Paid Paternity Leave

A recent study revealed that roughly 40% of U.S. companies offer paid parental leave for both parents. Many publications, including the survey itself, highlighted this figure as a positive, citing lower numbers in the past. While any improvement is welcome, these results imply that 60% of organizations in the nation still don’t offer paid paternity leave.

The lack of paid leave for both fathers and mothers can intensify workplace inequality and damage businesses. Here’s a closer look.

Why Companies Don’t Offer Paid Paternity Leave

To understand this issue fully, it helps to look at why so many companies don’t offer paid leave. Perhaps the most significant factor behind this choice is that it’s not a requirement. There is no national legislation that says businesses have to offer paid leave to either parent, much less both.

There are, however, paid parental leave requirements in five states and Washington, D.C., with varying provisions. At least five other states are currently considering paid leave laws, but that leaves most of the U.S. with no such legislation. When businesses don’t have to offer these benefits, many won’t — primarily because of the expense.

At first, paying an employee while they aren’t adding value to the company can seem like a financial risk. While it may seem that not offering paid leave can save a company money, it’s destructive in the long run — both employees and the companies they work for suffer.

How These Policies Impact Different Demographics

Although 40% of U.S. companies offer paid leave to both parents, that doesn’t mean 40% of workers experience those benefits. The businesses that provide these programs don’t employ a proportional amount of the workforce, so surveys show that just 20% of private-sector employees had access to such benefits in 2020.

There is a sharp economic divide between workers who do and do not receive paid parental leave, too. Only 8% of workers in the bottom wage quartile have access to these programs. Low-wage workers, who would suffer tremendously from weeks of unpaid leave, are far less likely to get paid leave.

Years of racial bias and oppression in America mean this divide is a racial one, too. Black and Hispanic workers, coming from historically disenfranchised families and neighborhoods, are less likely to receive paid leave for either parent.

How Businesses Benefit from Paid Paternity Leave

These disparities in paid parental leave programs worsen the economic and racial divides that already plague the nation. The impacts of a lack of paid leave don’t end with creating more division, though; they have economic effects as well. And yet, when businesses offer paid leave for both parents, they often see positive productivity gains.

Caring for a newborn child is stressful, and having to do so without a reliable income exacerbates that stress. Studies show that unexpected absenteeism, which can cost companies $3.5 million a year, is more often than not the result of stress. After all, stressed employees are far more likely to miss work and be less productive in the workplace.

Offering paid leave to only one parent fails to mitigate these issues effectively. The parent at home may feel more stressed from shouldering the burden of childcare alone, potentially harming their productivity when they return. The parent at work may have trouble focusing from spending time away from their newborn, impacting their productivity as well.

Providing both paternity and maternity leave ensures both parents can raise their newborn without economic difficulty. In return, their morale will improve, leading to less stress and higher productivity when they return.

How Paid Paternity Leave Supports Women in the Workforce

It’s impossible to discuss the impacts of parental leave without mentioning gender inequality in the workplace. Lack of paid parental leave for women doesn’t just widen the gender wage gap; it drives women out of the workforce. While it may not seem unrelated at first, paternity leave also impacts women’s work experiences.

When fathers can take time off as well as mothers, it reduces the stress of childcare. Fathers can take over raising children for a time, giving mothers a chance to get back to work. Paid paternity leave means women don’t have to bear the entire burden of raising a newborn, helping them retain their vital place in the workforce.

Past studies have indicated that paid paternity leave also reduces absenteeism among mothers, helping keep women satisfactorily employed. Similarly, countries with mandated paternity leave show higher rates of female employment in private companies. The bottom line: Paid paternity leave improves equality at home, and leads to more equity in the workplace.

Gender Equality: U.S. Companies Still Have a Way to Go

This Women’s History Month, companies should consider how their policies affect their female workers. Even paternity leave can impact women’s involvement in the workplace. Businesses that don’t provide equitable policies hinder gender equality among their employees and in their communities.

For years, women have had to bear most of the burden of child-rearing, limiting their professional careers. Equitable policies like paid leave for all parents lighten this burden, enabling women to achieve their full professional potential. The U.S. has made some tremendous strides in the pursuit of workplace gender equality, but there’s still a lot of room for improvement.

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.”

Will Extended Parental Leave Ever Exist in the US?

The United States lags behind when it comes to parental rights. We’re on a shockingly short list of countries that offer no paid maternity leave and are one of just a few developed nations with no federally mandated parental leave.

This isn’t a good thing for workers or companies.

It leaves many people torn between health, family, and paycheck. For those who can’t afford to take time off, recovering from childbirth or adjusting to new routines can impact their performance at work. New parents who can afford not to go back to work after having children often don’t—leaving employers with vacant positions to fill.

It’s an imbalance that ultimately doesn’t have any winners. Here’s a look at what we’re missing—and the potential for change that’s coming over the horizon. Isn’t it time our federal policies were brought up-to-date?

Maternity Leave in Canada vs. the United States

In Canada, child-related leave isn’t just covered by federally mandated policies, it’s encouraged, and financially supplemented—even for the self-employed— through the federal Employment Insurance (EI) program. And often, depending on where parents work, employer-provided assistances adds additional monies.

Time off post-childbirth is split between maternity leave (up to 17 weeks maximum) and parental leave, to a maximum of 35 weeks. Basically, Moms get at least 17 weeks, and then can opt to continue and take the rest, or go back to work and allow the other parent to take the remainder. All the while knowing that their job(s) will be held for their return, at the same rate of pay with the same benefits.

In addition to the rather healthy “natural birth” maternity benefits, Canadians also get up to 52 weeks of leave when adopting.

The United States stands in stark contrast, where it’s generally up to employers to define benefits. For example, through the Family and Medical Leave Act, employees are legally allowed to take up to 12 weeks of job-protected leave for various medical or family reasons, including illness, adoption, or having a baby. There’s a catch, though: That leave is unpaid, and small companies with fewer than 50 employees are exempt! If you work for a small business and can afford to take parental leave, your job could be filled in your absence. 

Companies Taking Maternity Leave Into Their Own Hands

Perhaps motivated by the competition for talent in the tech industry, the United States’ weak support system has led a number of companies to make their own rules:

  • Netflix recently announced new parental leave benefits: 12 to 16 weeks of fully paid leave for maternity, paternity, or adoptions. Salaried workers in Netflix’s streaming business can take up to one year of paid parental leave—on top of their unlimited vacation time. Employees can return to work in either a part-time or full-time capacity. They can also go back to work, then go on leave again at a later date.
  • Adobe also offers time off for new mother and fathers. Primary caregivers are allowed to take up to 16 weeks of paid leave after giving birth, adopting, fostering, or becoming a surrogate parent. This is in addition to paid medical leave, which gives new parents a combined total of 26 weeks of paid leave.
  • Twitter takes its support for parents a step further than paid time off. Mothers are allowed to take 20 weeks of paid leave while fathers or adoptive parents can take up to 10 weeks off. Once a quarter, it coordinates a meeting for new parents, where parents can ask questions about parenthood, exchange stories, and get help with leave information.

These family friendly policies leave me feeling warm and fuzzy—but they’re also vitally important policies when it comes to employee engagement and retention.

Millennials, now the largest generation in the workforce, are serious about benefits for families; in one survey, 86 percent said they were less likely to quit if parental benefits were offered. When Google extended maternity leave from three to five months and increased it from partial to full pay, the attrition rate for new mothers dropped by 50 percent.

Is a Change in the Air?

For years, many businesses have tried to squeeze every ounce of productivity out of their employees. The Pregnancy Discrimination Act was developed to combat this practice, but pregnant women still don’t have the financial support and job security they should. It’s a shortsighted waste of talent.

Hopefully, these new policies from companies like Twitter, Netflix, and Adobe will generate the momentum for change so desperately needed in the U.S. It seems businesses finally recognize that their most valuable assets are their employees; treating them well is good for both the company and the worker. As more and more companies realize this, we might see a snowball effect of better benefits for all parents and families.

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This article was first published on Huffington Post on 2/17/2016.

Surprise: Big Perks Don’t Always Equal Happier Female Employees

The conversation about women in the workplace is getting personal. And maybe that’s a good thing.

This past summer, an ex-employee called out Amazon for its inhospitable policies toward women and parents. In September, a female employee sued Microsoft for gender discrimination. It wasn’t the only high-profile company to come under fire: both Twitter and Facebook are defendants in similar suits filed this year.

At the same time, several companies (mainly in the technology sector) have upped their game in the race to acquire top—and specifically, female—talent, engaging in fierce competition. Consequently, there has been an increase in female-focused perks: Apple and Facebook are helping women freeze their eggs, while IBM and Twitter now express-ship breastmilk home to babies while their parents are away on business. There has been a slew of revamped policies on parental leave: with VodaphoneJohnson & JohnsonGoldman SachsBlackstoneChange.orgNetflixMicrosoftAdobe, and the U.S. Navy all enacting more progressive codes.

So, what’s fueling this fire?

When we look at all these revolutionary changes, we may conclude that companies are simply acting in their own best interest, now that the business case for diversity has been made. Last year, Scientific American reported on a study finding that, on average, “female representation in top management leads to an increase of $42 million in firm value.” That’s a hard number to ignore! Or it might be that women (at least, those in a position to do so) are heeding the warnings of others when choosing where to work, selecting companies that support their particular needs, and building a new direction for office culture. Companies may be reacting to a real and growing dissatisfaction among their female employees.

No matter what the reason, this momentum toward significant change is certainly a welcome one. But the motivation behind the policy revisions may actually matter—a lot—as to whether they represent the actual change that is needed.

It forces us to ask, where’s the disconnect between what working women want, and what companies have on offer?

Perks are half the story

Business Insider article recently pointed out that various perks—such as the $2,000 stipend to buy maternity clothes offered by Domo—may not actually help women and parents. Instead, it functions as “a consolation prize” for the genuine need. (In Domo’s case, as in many cases, that genuine need is guaranteed paid parental leave for U.S. workers.)

Even more important is the potential difference between a company’s policies—e.g., 12 weeks of paid maternity leave—and company realities—e.g., very few employees willing to take that full leave, as corporate culture pressures them to return early. Without including both, you don’t get a full picture of a workplace environment.

That’s precisely what motivated Ursula Mead to found InHerSight, a platform for every woman to rate employers’ female-friendly (or not) policies on both the “hard” facts and the “soft” realities. The site solicits feedback via a three-minute, anonymous survey. In other words, you don’t have to be a top executive at a household-name company to speak up about workplace gender discrimination, poor parental support, inflexible work schedules, or the nature of opportunities available for growth and leadership. Conversely, it highlights which companies are outstanding in these areas, as judged by their own employees.

By providing this invaluable feedback, women (and men, too) are creating a rich database that helps fellow site users make informed job choices that support their unique career and lifestyle needs.

Company policies tell only half the story. The other half comes from the people who know the companies best—the women who work there and are affected by those policies, Mead emphasizes.

“In the quest for greater equality for women in the workplace, the ‘hows’ and ‘whys’ of policy implementation are often more important than the policy itself. Numbers that look great on paper aren’t always great in reality, and benefits that may appear middle-of-the-road could be fantastic,” she explains.

She offers the example of Cisco, which offers six weeks of paid maternity leave to employees. That’s far fewer than many of their tech-sector peers, yet it has a satisfaction score of 3.5 out of 5 for the “Maternity and Adoptive Leave” metric on InHerSight. IBM, on the other hand, offers 14 weeks paid and receives a score of just 3.3 from the women who work there. Amazon, which falls somewhere in between at eight paid weeks, has a score of just 2.3*. Factors for the discrepancy may include how welcome parents feel towards taking the full time, or how difficult it is to settle back into the workplace after taking leave.

Data also shows you can’t judge a company by its leader. Organizations run by women aren’t necessarily doing a better job of encouraging female leadership. Yahoo provides a prime example. Despite Marissa Mayer’s role as CEO, Female Representation in Top Leadership is one of the company’s lowest-rated metrics on InHerSight.

User comments on the site reflect this potential disconnect. One Yahoo reviewer states, “Although we have a woman CEO, I have seen a lot of women executives leave as they weren’t promoted and didn’t get the support they needed.” This may connect to the fact that its other low-ranking stat is Telecommuting and Sponsorship/Mentorship.

Positive change for one and all

While the wealth of collective information coming from sources like InHerSight can benefit women seeking a positive place to move forward in their careers, the best news is there’s evidence that employers are paying attention as well.

Mead says, since she launched InHerSight in January 2015, she has received a steady flow of inquiries and interest from companies wanting to understand their metrics, as well as the types of benefits they can offer to recruit and support female employees. “We love to see companies trying to create solutions that really do benefit the women who work for them,” she adds.

Perhaps “solutions” is the right word. After all, as long as we’re still just offering “perks”—that is, looking at women’s workplace satisfaction as a set of fringe benefits—we won’t have made the kind of mainstream, center-field change we need to create better gender balance. Having more solid data of the same nature that InHerSight collects is paramount to providing solutions that don’t just look good on paper, but in reality.

*Amazon announced on November 2, 2015 its plan to increase paid parental leave for its employees.

A version of this post was originally published on  The Toolbox.

photo credit: Catfeet via photopin (license)

Why So Many "Groundbreaking" Company Policies Fall Short for Women

Unlimited paid parental leave. Sounds amazing, right? When Netflix announced that it was offering “unlimited” (up to 12 months) paid leave to new moms and dads, its chief talent officer touted the new policy: “Each employee gets to figure out what’s best for their family.”

It’s a bold and admirable step for a US company, creating a new golden standard for other companies to strive for and setting Netflix up as a leader in promoting equality and support for working parents.

But policies are only one part of the story.

In the quest for greater equality for women in the workplace, the how’s and why’s of a policy’s implementation are often even more important than the policies themselves. Things that look great on paper (and sound even better in a press release) won’t always be great in reality, while policies that may look middle-of-the-road could be fantastic depending on the culture that surrounds them.

Take it or leave it?

Is it any surprise that when women take maternity leave, they often come back to jobs that have changed, moved, or disappeared altogether? You portion off your duties to colleagues, sometimes hoping that things don’t go well without you because you want to be needed.

There’s more to the story than simply how many weeks of paid leave are written in the employee handbook. And in cases like Netflix, where there’s ambiguity around how many weeks you take, we may find that this golden standard actually causes more problems for women than it solves. You’re the one making the call on how much leave you take or whether you come back part-time at first, and that can be seen as a reflection of how dedicated you are to your employer.

As a result, even more important than policies themselves is the potential difference between a company’s policies and company realities — e.g., very few employees willing to take that full leave, as corporate culture pressures them to return early. Without understanding both, you don’t get a full picture of a workplace environment.

Take Cisco, which offers six weeks of paid maternity leave to employees. That’s far fewer than many of their tech-sector peers, yet it has a satisfaction score of 3.5 out of 5 for the “Maternity and Adoptive Leave” metric on InHerSight. IBM, on the other hand, offers 14 weeks paid and trails Cisco with a score of 3.3 from the women who work there. Factors for the discrepancy may include how welcome parents feel towards taking the full time, or how difficult it is to settle back into the workplace after taking leave.

We can’t keep having policies fall short, nor can we let company policies alone be our measure for progress. The best way to help change that is to show companies what they need to do better as well as what they’re doing right.

A version of this post was first published on InHerSight on November 23, 2015

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