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5 Employers Making Moves on Paid Leave, and the Motivations Behind Them

Patrick Ball on February 07, 2017 11:50 AM

Over the past few years, paid leave has pretty well carved out a place in our national conversation. Last year, 2016, saw a number of companies make major improvements to parental leave policies for their employers and both major party presidential candidates announced paid leave proposals.

If the first month is any indication, 2017 is shaping up to be another year of progress for employer-provided paid leave programs. From an engineering company intent on advancing women in STEM careers to a southern city positioning itself to compete on a global stage, here’s a look at five employers who’ve made paid leave announcements.  

  1. Women in STEM Through Paid Leave
    A University of Wisconsin study found about half of female engineers leave the field, and now one West Coast engineering company is betting its new gender-neutral paid leave policy can change that dynamic. PAE, an engineering firm with locations in Seattle, Portland and San Francisco, has announced a “wellness leave” policy providing up to six weeks of fully paid leave for any employee after the birth, adoption or foster placement of a child, or to deal with a serious health condition of their own or a loved one.   According to a company press release, the new program is intended to address the problem attracting and retaining female talent within STEM fields. Shiloh Butterworth, PAE’s director of employee experience, said the company believes encouraging men to take caregiving leave will “help level the playing field when it comes to women’s career advancement.”

  2. Reporting on Results
    Last spring, online retailer Etsy introduced a gender-blind parental leave policy offering 26 weeks of paid parental leave to all new parent employees. Now, they’ve released a video about the program – and the early results are astounding.  According to a company announcement, employees who identify as men are taking leave at the same rate as employees who identify as women, and extended leave has not had a negative impact on career progression. From the report: “Of those who have taken the new parental leave, 35 percent have been promoted since April, which means they were promoted either soon before, during or after taking leave. Of those who were promoted, 41 percent advanced to the director level or above.”

    Related: 5 Reasons New Dads Need Paternity Leave

  3. Boosting Barista Benefits
    Starbucks is enhancing parental leave benefits for non-store partners and benefits-eligible baristas, a move executives described as an investment in employee experience. Effective Oct. 1, 2017, baristas working at least 20 hours per week who give birth will receive six weeks of paid maternity leave at 100 percent of pay. Any store-level partner who has a new child—including new dads, foster or adoptive parents—will be eligible to take 12 weeks of unpaid leave. For non-store partners (including district managers, field partners and corporate employees) the enhanced benefits allow birth mothers to take up to 18 weeks of paid leave, while non-birth parents can take up to 12 weeks fully paid. “While we have made substantial investments in our partners, we want to continue to do more,” company President and COO Kevin Johnson said in an announcement. “This is one of many steps we are actively taking to evolve our benefits and create a Partner Experience that lives up to our aspirations.”

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  4. Work-Life Balance, Energized
    Improving work-life balance and talent management sparked Duke Energy to offer fully paid parental leave to all of its employees. The North Carolina-based utility’s new policy provides six weeks of paid leave to all employees after the birth, adoption or foster care placement of a child. Birth mothers at Duke are eligible for a total of 12 weeks of paid maternity leave, when you combine the new policy with the company’s existing, pregnancy-related short term disability. “Paid parental leave will give Duke Energy employees important quality time to bond with their new children without the financial pressure of having to immediately return to work. That’s good for our employees and their children,” Melissa Anderson, Duke’s Executive Vice President and Chief Human Resources Officer, said in a statement announcing the policy. “Coupled with our other work-family benefits, paid parental leave also will help us recruit and retain the next generation of highly skilled workers.”

    Related: Deloitte's Paid Family Leave Benefit is a Sign of the Times

  5. Attracting Top Talent to … Tampa
    The city of Tampa is the latest employer to jump on the paid leave bandwagon, according to a recent announcement by the city’s mayor, Bob Buckhorn. Beginning Feb. 12, 2017, the city’s policy will provide eight weeks of paid leave to the primary caregiver and six weeks to the secondary caregiver following the birth, adoption, or foster care placement of a new child. “Attracting and retaining the most talented requires providing a 21st Century workplace for our families,” Buckhorn said in a video on his Facebook page. “Access to paid leave after the birth of a new child has shown to offer a wide range of benefits for mothers and for children; it also increases the likelihood mothers return to work and continue progressing in their careers. … Families should never be faced with the choice of whether to take those critical first weeks home with their child or put food on the table.”

Toward the end of his two-minute video address, the Tampa mayor said a few powerful words that really put his city’s new program—and family-friendly policies in general—in context. “Parental leave, child care and the like are not women’s issues; they’re economic issues,” he said, “And the progress we make on this front will directly impact our competitiveness on the global stage.”

It’s so important when leaders from the business and policy world make comments like this. Reframing the conversation around paid leave and family care, so that we appreciate the economic impact rather than dismissing as personal or “soft” issues, is critical to addressing these issues at scale. 

Millennials, our largest workforce demographic are entering parenthood … fast. More than a million are becoming moms every year. This is, perhaps, the first generation of women who are entering the workforce with equal, if not better, career prospects than men. But for many among this critical workforce demographic, there is (or will be) a symbiotic relationship between care and work.

Reframing the conversation around care and pushing beyond traditional gender roles are critical pieces to not just the economic empowerment of women but to powering a 21st Century workforce. These are the issues PAE is tackling. This is the challenge the City of Tampa is taking on. It’s what Duke Energy’s EVP is talking about. And it’s what Etsy is starting to prove out with the results its reporting.

We applaud these employers for providing paid leave for their workers. This is an important step toward providing the types of benefits and supports to keep today’s workforce on track. 

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