Richard Branson, the founder of the Virgin Group, made news recently with the announcement that new dads and moms will receive 12 months of fully paid leave. Unfortunately, only 0.2 percent of employees will gain access to this benefit. Male and female employees must also reside in London or Geneva and have four years of tenure with Virgin Management in order to benefit.
However, few companies worldwide match or come close to what Branson offers a small cadre of his employees. In general, women have much more access than men to paid leave (even though paid leave for mothers in the United States is still pretty dismal as well). For paid maternity leave, the International Labour Organization notes that only two out of 185 surveyed countries — the United States and Papua New Guinea — do not provide leave to new mothers. Meanwhile, fathers are far less likely to receive paid leave, with only 79 countries having some form of paid paternity leave. Great Britain, for example, recently passed a law that provides 50 weeks of leave, of which 37 weeks of pay is split between parents.
If talent advisors are advocates for employees, how can they promote more gender-neutral leave policies?
Consider the following:
Many men are full-fledged contributors trying to balance both work and family demands.
As a parent who stays home three mornings a week to help raise my two-year-old twins, meeting both work requirements and family needs is daunting. When at home, I feel guilty about not being at work prepping for classes, grading homework, or developing my scholarship. When at work, I feel like I am missing key developments of my children. Max Schierson, the former CEO of the company MongoDB, recently stepped down from that crucial company role as he wanted to spend more time with his family — and more and more men are following suit.
Giving men more time off can have a positive impact on childcare.
A recent OECD study found that dads provided with leave were more likely to change diapers, for example, than those who did not take leave. Similarly, “a Norwegian study found that it improved performance at secondary school; daughters, especially, seemed to flourish if their dads had taken time off.” As author Liza Mundy discusses in an article on The Atlantic, paternity leave “shapes domestic and parenting habits as they are forming.” In fact, she says, studies have found that fathers who take paternity leave are more likely to not only change diapers but also bathe their kids, read them bedtime stories, and get up at night to tend to them a year into the child’s life.
The absence of paid leave for men can exacerbate male-female pay and work differences.
As Claire Cain Miller notes in The New York Times, maternity leave policies “can end up discouraging employers from hiring women in the first place, because they fear women will leave for long periods or use expensive benefits.” Providing paid time off for men may in fact have positive economic and domestic effects for women. It’s been shown to relieve them from doing the bulk of the domestic load: Ankita Patnaik analyzed Quebec’s paternal leave policy and found a 23 percent increase in the time men devoted to household chores. Meanwhile, mothers were more likely to work longer hours, be employed full-time, and earn a higher income.
And as a World Economic Forum report found, it’s mothers — not fathers or babies — who benefit the most from paternity leave:
Countries with the strongest economies are those that have found ways to further women’s careers, close the gender pay gap, and keep women — who in most nations are now better educated than men — tethered to the workforce after they become mothers.”
Family-friendly labor policies still tend to lean in favor of women being the primary caregiver. If organizations want to keep top female talent, starting to address differentials now in the application of leave based on gender is crucial.
Throughout the month of July, our resident talent advisors are discussing issues around work-life balance. Subscribe to Talent Advisor to stay on top of the latest blog posts and discussions around unlimited PTO, modeling good work-life behaviors as an employer, working from home, gender differences and PTO, maternity and paternity leave, and much more.