You’ve heard it a million times: Only three countries in the world offer no guaranteed parental leave. The three? Suriname, Papua New Guinea, and the United States.
Our government still doesn’t seem willing to act on this shameful state of affairs, but in recent years, large, well-funded companies have been voluntarily moving toward policies that go beyond the bare minimum to offer competitive benefits for parents. Companies like Etsy, Netflix, Microsoft, Google, and Facebook have all updated their policies to reflect the reality that infants need time at home with their parents at the beginning of their lives.
Today, New York City–based digital agency ustwo is announcing Pledge Parental Leave with ten other founding partners, including Betaworks, Ideo, Made by Many, and Smart Design. The pledge, which all of the founding companies have signed on for, has four requirements for its partners. First, companies must offer three months of paid leave for the primary caregiver. They must also give three months of uninterrupted medical insurance and six months of job security for the person on leave, and the policy must be “open” and publicly available online.
Pledge Parental Leave is focused on recruiting creative firms as partners, many of which are small workplaces with long hours and little attention paid to work-life balance. Needless to say, many of those teams are full of (and run by) young men who haven’t necessarily thought about parental-leave policies.
Jules Ehrhardt, co-owner of ustwo and one of the brains behind the Pledge Parental Leave coalition, said it wasn’t hard to convince these firms to join up. They’re making the case, well-documented in other areas, that offering competitive and fair leave policies is cost-effective in the long run compared with the cost of recruiting and onboarding new employees to replace the ones lost to parenthood. “The cost to recruit and replace an employee is about $20k more than providing paid leave,” they argue on their website.
Beyond a cost advantage, they argue that offering paid leave is good for company morale, recruitment, and retention of employees, and, finally, it’s “the right thing to do.” That’s a message that can easily get lost in the U.S., where many don’t consider leave a basic human need. Pledge’s statement reads:
It’s basic human instinct, and frankly a human right, that parents should be with their child during their first few months. Plenty of companies tell their employees, ‘We’re more than a team, we’re a family.’ Prove it to them & set yourself apart by providing their actual family with the care and respect they deserve.
The last requirement — that partner companies publish their leave policy openly — is a crucial one, according to Ehrhardt. “There’s a real stigma attached to even asking what parental-leave benefits are,” he says, and almost “no one even asks.” In a job interview or discussion with HR, no one wants to set off the “Oh no, she’s gonna have a baby” alarms. This part of the pledge makes it easier to access that information without even having to ask.
Ultimately, the goal is to get more companies to sign on, essentially by “embarrassing” them into participation, and to fill the gap as our country moves toward providing leave to parents as a standard. “In 15 or 20 years,” Ehrhardt says, “I believe this won’t even be an issue. It will be a matter of course for companies to provide leave,” so, he says, “you’re standing on the wrong side of history” if you refuse to start providing it now.