A bit like unisex jeans, gender neutral parental leave is catching on!
Twitter has just announced a that any employee (male, female, heterosexual or not) who becomes a new parent of a newborn child will enjoy 20 weeks of fully paid time off. This makes Twitter part of a small group of companies that don’t try to identify who is a “primary” caretaker for a baby, nor draw a distinction between maternity leave and paternity leave.
Previously, Twitter had offered 20 weeks of paid maternity leave to mothers but fathers and adoptive parents only received 10 paid weeks of family leave. Their more generous, new policy will go into effect on May 1 for U.S. employees and by July 1 for the company’s international employee base.
Offering different parental leave policies for the purposes of bonding is not allowed under federal law. Under the Pregnancy Discrimination Act, the EEOC has said that “leave related to pregnancy, childbirth or related medical conditions may be limited to women affected by those conditions, but parental leave must be provided to similarly situated mean and women on the same terms. If, for example, an employer extends leave to new mothers beyond the period of recuperation from childbirth, it cannot lawfully refuse to provide an equivalent amount of leave to new fathers for the same purpose.”
Offering generous parental leave is one thing, but how many men and fathers actually take it? It may be instructive to look at some employers with above-average paternity leave policies such as Yahoo, Bank of America and EY who currently offer new fathers 8, 12 and 6 paid weeks of leave, respectively. According to one study as reported by WSJ, though 85% of new fathers take some time off after the birth of a child, the vast majority only take 1-2 weeks of time off. Some of this may be due to the stigma or fear of not being seen as not dedicated to their work. For others, getting their full allotment of time means self-identifying as the children’s ‘primary caretaker.’
A case study from abroad also points to the difference between policy and practice. In the UK, it’s been over a year since the Shared Parental Leave law was implemented. This policy allows fathers and mothers to share up to 50 weeks of leave and 37 weeks of pay after the birth or adoption of a child. This is a benefit that many Americans would no doubt, love to see implemented. However, less than 2% of the eligible fathers have taken up their rights under the law this year. As reported by the FT, the main reasons were that men “felt unable to because of the impact on their careers and earning ability.”
Even at the most progressive employers who have implemented gender neutral parental leave policies, fathers are not taking their full allotment of leave. Take for example, Facebook where CEO Mark Zuckerberg made headlines for taking 2 months of paternity leave (half of what was available to him). Men at the company have reported that fathers have an average of 2+ months of leave whereas a majority of new mothers at Facebook have taken their full 4 months of leave, according to the New York Times.
This is why Twitter is not only implementing a new policy but also bringing in trainers to help managers understand how to manage their teams when employees take advantage of their leave policies and the increased workloads. As Twitter’s director of compensation and benefits Laura Brady told Fortune, “Education is critical”.
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