Despite the fact that stay-at-home parenthood is on the decline, companies in the United States are not required to offer paid family leave to employees. At the national level, the only requirement is for companies with more than 50 employees to offer 12 weeks of unpaid leave — to mothers only.
In contrast to this policy, more and more tech companies are choosing to offer robust leave programs for mothers and fathers alike.
This increase in parental support has proven beneficial for both parents and employers: case studies and firsthand accounts point to a strong connection between these benefits and an increase in job satisfaction, a healthy work-life balance and overall employee retention. Parental leave, it would seem, is the newest must-have for any tech company looking to find — and keep — the best talent out there.
Making time for mom
Despite the mandate for certain employers to provide maternity leave, reports of women who are fired for being pregnant or who return from maternity leave to find their jobs have disappeared are shockingly commonplace, pointing to a clear need for parental leave overhaul across industries.
While the tech industry has dealt with its own share of pregnancy and maternity-related discrimination, many of today’s leading firms are looking to set an example for all industries to follow. In many cases, that means longer, paid maternity leave, but it can also take the form of a range of other motherhood-related benefits.
Establishing a robust maternity leave policy can help quash discriminatory thinking from the top down, and create an environment in which employees are allowed to feel like they have a life outside of work that matters. These strides are essential to businesses looking to make their employees feel secure and comfortable in their jobs, and more firmly establish a positive workplace and business culture.
At Chicago-based Jellyvision, this impact is clear. Director of Account Management Jenna Madden has been with the firm for more than three and a half years. Not only has she risen her way through the company ranks as a mother, but after having her first child, taking time away from the office gave her confidence in motherhood that ultimately benefited her work.
“Knowing that I had the time to solely focus on [my newborn daughter] was the greatest benefit of all.”
“As first-time parents, Jellyvision's parental leave benefits gave us peace of mind,” she told Built In. “I didn’t know what to expect or how I was going to feel once our daughter arrived, so knowing that I had the time to solely focus on her — with her being my only job — was the greatest benefit of all. The 14 weeks spent with her gave me confidence as a new mom, which in turn helped me transition back to work more easily.”
Also based in Chicago is Kim Blight, a product operations lead with Sprout Social. In her three-year tenure with the company, Blight has served in a range of marketing and product roles. In addition to helping lead the vision at one of the world’s most successful social media marketing technology firms, Blight’s tenure at Sprout has also seen her take on the role of new mother.
“Access to Sprout’s parental leave was critical in giving me the time I needed in the first four months of my child’s life to focus exclusively on him,” she said. “My team and the business supported me every step of the way, allowing me to soak up every second of the precious one-on-one time I had with my son without worry. The culture Sprout has built around truly celebrating parenthood is something I will always be grateful for and never forget.”
Bringing dad on board
One of the most significant shifts in recent years is the addition of paternity leave to many company policies. Tech leaders like Reddit, Amazon, Microsoft and Pinterest all offer substantial time off for mothers and fathers alike.
In the United States, paternity leave is still not legally mandated. Even when this less-common perk is offered, many fathers opt out of the benefit. Yet, both parents having the ability to take time off — and subsequently taking that time off — is statistically proven to have positive consequences for all involved.
Research published by the University of Edinburgh draws a clear connection between employee participation in parent-oriented programs and higher job satisfaction and overall employee retention. What’s more: fathers cited the presence of parenting perks as a greater incentive to keep a job than a salary increase.
“I was able to focus completely on my son and my wife, sharing the substantial burden of caring for our newborn.”
“I took seven weeks of paternity leave when my son was born,” explained Aaron Yoshitake, a web developer at LA-based Viasat. Though he had worked for Viasat for many years by the time he became a father, parental leave allowed him to step back from his role completely:
“During my leave, I was able to focus completely on my son and my wife, sharing the substantial burden of caring for our newborn,” he said.
Yoshitake explained how, during this critical period, he and his wife were able to establish patterns of caring for their son and finish adapting their new home to fit the needs of the newborn. When Yoshitake returned to work, he said, having routines already established that he could build his work life around proved invaluable.
Scenarios like Yoshitake’s point to another, under-discussed benefit of parental leave for male caregivers: closing the wage gap. Research points to a trend in which women’s earnings significantly drop off following the birth of their first child.
Men’s earnings, however, remain relatively the same.
In part, this pattern can be attributed to a lack of company support for new fathers. If a woman receives maternity leave, she is more likely to become the primary caregiver for the child right off the bat. Supporting all parents equally has the potential to keep post-baby earnings more equitable, and bring the gender gap one step closer to closure.
A changing culture
Approximately 35 percent of U.S.-based companies offer paid maternity leave, and 28 percent offer paid paternity leave. These numbers still have a long way to go, but they are moving in the right direction each year as workers make their needs heard.
Tech companies are also leading the charge in terms of establishing a precedent for adoption and fertility-related benefits, giving “non-traditional” families access to the tools that many others have had access to for years.
In addition to its maternity benefits, Jellyvision offers adoption and surrogacy support that includes six months of paid time off, as well as six months of unpaid time off. Families navigating the often-complicated process of adoption and surrogacy will receive $2,500 in reimbursement for application fees, agency fees, legal fees, transportation, family counseling and more.
Other major tech firms, such as Netflix, Etsy and Snapchat, have all established strong parental leave policies that include adoption and surrogacy benefits, giving their thousands of collective employees the ability to explore parenthood in a way that works for them. Additionally, tech leaders such as Boeing and IBM now offer on-site childcare.
As family benefits continue to become the norm in tech, industries across the board are likely to follow suit, if only to be able to compete for talent in a tight labor market that’s increasingly work-life oriented. Whatever the drive, a world in which parents and their children can thrive is one worth supporting.