When Should You Create Your Maternity Leave Policy?




Romy Newman
Romy Newman
April 23, 2024 at 4:22AM UTC
Katherine Prime was one year into her tenure as SVP Operations at Spring Inc., a digital shopping startup, when she was approached by a key employee from her team who told her she was pregnant.

“What is our maternity leave policy?” the employee wanted to know. Katherine’s challenge? The company didn’t have one. The topic had never come up before because during Spring’s short life span, no employee had ever become pregnant before.

Katherine realized that she needed to tackle this issue immediately -- not just to get this one employee an answer to her very reasonable question, but also to establish the maternity leave as an important part of Spring’s talent retention and acquisition strategy.

Katherine undertook a great deal of research, and determined that in the world of parental leave policies, “standard is really poor -- meaning most companies adhere to some basic standard of 6 weeks paid, and that really doesn’t feel like enough for a mother to recover and bond with her newborn.” Katherine asked friends, associates and even lawyers to weigh in on what kind of policy Spring should implement.

With strong support from her boss, the company’s co-founder, Katherine proposed and successfully implemented a paid maternity leave policy of four months. She views this accomplishment as one of her most significant in her time at Spring.

“Our generous leave policy builds a deeper loyalty. It also sends a strong message that having a child [while working at Spring] is not going to set you back.” Katherine wanted to send a strong signal that Spring was truly an employer that respects families. And, to build on the successful implementation of the maternity leave policy (which applies to all primary caregivers), Katherine is working on a paternity policy to implement soon.

Katherine's journey is not unusual, since for many companies wait until an employee is pregnant to create a leave policy. So what does this mean for your business?

1.Figure out your parental leave policy before someone gets pregnant.

As Katherine tells us, it’s critical “to think about your leave policy before there’s a specific individual in question.” Otherwise, when you’re trying to garner support for your proposed policy, it’s possible that some bias may creep in - albeit unintentionally.

So the takeaway here is that it’s never too soon to start thinking about your leave policy. And if you wait until one of your employees is pregnant, you’ve waited too long.

2. Do your research, and ground your recommendation in data.

One of the reasons we founded Fairygodboss is because we found an extraordinary lack of publicly available data about companies’ maternity leave policies. Historically, it has been a huge black box. Fortunately, thanks to thousands of tips we’ve received from women all over the US, we now have a complete database of maternity leave policies at over 1500 US companies. Who has the most generous? Learn more here.

3. Making your policy more generous really does have an impact.

Data that we’ve collected at Fairygodboss shows a direct correlation between the amount of maternity leave taken by women at work their overall job satisfaction. And, it’s a step function. Women who take more than 13 weeks are more satisfied overall than those who took 12.

So it’s not just about instinct or doing the right thing. If your aim is to help retain and promote your best female talent, they will be much more loyal, satisfied and productive if they have the opportunity to take more leave.

4. Focus on the benefits.

An industry-leading leave policy is “a great recruiting mechanism,” Katherine told us. When you’re thinking about implementing a policy for your business, think about what outcomes you’re trying to achieve. If you choose to implement a top-notch parental leave policy, you’ll show current and future employees that you are truly a family-friendly employer, where they can build a career long term.

5. Make sure there is support from senior management - both for the policy and the practice.

Mark Zuckerberg made news last year when he took 2 months paternity leave from his role as CEO of Facebook. Great parental leave policies work only when senior management works by example. Managers should take leave, and should show strong support of others who do as well.

Many times, people worry about lost productivity while employees are out on leave, but I can tell you from personal experience that it is much easier to miss the contributions of a talented employee for several months than it is to lose her or him altogether. In my view, churn is one of the most underestimated costs a company faces.

On the flipside, if you can distinguish your company as one that is genuinely respectful of the family lives of its employees, the loyalty you build will take you far.



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