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Crafting your company's parental leave policy
Lexi Croswell, author

Lexi Croswell

Writer, Culture Amp

Parental leave policies often spark spirited conversation, and there can be a gap between what an organization would like to provide for employees with children, and what they can afford.

To get an insider perspective, we spoke with four leading HR experts:

  • Isa Notermans, Global Head of Diversity & Inclusion at Spotify
  • Katja Wessling, Director of Culture & Development at ustwo
  • Allyson Downey, CEO and founder of weeSpring, and Author of Here's the Plan
  • Erica Stokes, Director of People Operations at Poppin

The question, “What is family-friendly culture?”, sparked discussion on how companies can be inclusive and flexible. One way to demonstrate inclusion and flexibility at work is through a comprehensive parental leave policy.

Here are six great tips from the panel on how to craft your company’s parental leave policy.

1. Consider parental leave the evolution of maternity leave

While women were traditionally viewed as the primary caretaker of children, this view is out of date. An effective and comprehensive parental leave policy should acknowledge this. Wessling says, “We’re trying to create different lingo around what defines primary caretaker. It's not a mom necessarily, and it's not necessarily somebody who gave birth to a child. It could be somebody who adopted a child, it could be a dad, etc. There's a lot to do in terms of how we talk about it so that leave is accessible to relevant caretakers.”

Making sure that parental leave policies are inclusive of contemporary definitions of caretakers is an important step in any policy. Notermans says Spotify is committed to making sure that their policy is equitable for both parents, and all those who would be the primary carers of children. “We wanted to make sure that it was balanced so the load didn't fall to one person in the family,” she says.

2. Be realistic about what you can afford

While companies may aspire to six-month or year-long paid leave as part of their parental policy, it's not always feasible for early-stage startups. For instance, Poppin recently extended their 6-week paid leave to 13-weeks. Stokes says, "I don't think it's the final solution but it's moving us in the right direction to establishing a family-friendly workplace. There's room for us to grow and improve as the company grows as well.”  

3. Need to persuade a stakeholder? Use data

A lot of women weren't returning to work at Spotify after having a child. “There was a loss of key talent and a real impact on the bottom line,” Notermans says. It was more cost-effective to provide the flexibility needed for parents to return to work.  

Stokes adds that without a competitive parental leave policy, candidates will choose other companies to work at. She says, “if we [Poppin] want seasoned folks who have experience, we should have a parental leave plan that is competitive.”

Forecast parental leave to understand the impact it will have on the business. Downey says this type of calculation should factor in how much backfilling of roles will take place. In many instances, jobs are covered internally by other team members – which means there's no direct cost at all.

4. Consider the laws

Parental leave legislation is changing in some states and countries. Wessling says, “To get your house in order before legislation changes is a way to advocate for your policy.” Demonstrating that you have done the research, know how to implement the legislation, and even how to stay competitive in your industry can help you get support for your plan.   

5. Factor in how global your company is

Consider the current location of your company and the benefits that are standard. Can you use your country’s existing standard as a basis for all locations? Can you raise the bar to make parental leave your competitive advantage?

Notermans says that the initial conversation at Spotify around parental leave was driven by the fact that they are a Swedish company. Parental leave is a standard Swedish benefit, something that all companies offer. "We can't have employees just in Sweden benefiting from this amazing generous benefit, why not have our parents all over the world benefit from being able to bond and spend time with their family?" she says.  

6. Seize the opportunity to create industry change

The company ustwo recognized the need for a more progressive parental leave policy not just internally, but throughout the creative industry. They’ve cofounded the Pledge Parental Leave where member companies pledge to provide a minimum of three months fully-paid leave for the primary caregiver, three months of uninterrupted health insurance, and a guarantee of six months of job security.

Wessling points out that some people may feel vulnerable asking about parental leave policies during an interview, so the Pledge’s fourth requirement is that member companies publish their policies. In discussing and creating their own policy, ustwo and the co-founders of Pledge Parental Leave started a revolution in their industry to support parents.

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