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Gender-neutral parental leave: Supporting families, children and employers

Laura Keenan  Vice President, Global Human Resources Policy, Thomson Reuters

Laura Keenan  Vice President, Global Human Resources Policy, Thomson Reuters

Why should companies offer gender-neutral parental leave benefits? Because it is a unique opportunity for companies in the digital age to benefit men, women, and the LGBTQ community while positively impacting the bottom line.

Not long ago, Thomson Reuters announced it was extending its parental leave policy in the U.S., giving both parents – not just the birth mother – 12 weeks of paid leave within a year of the child’s birth or adoption. For the birth parent, parental leave begins when disability ends, which generally extends the period of paid leave to 18 weeks.Beyond the fact that it’s the right thing to do, it’s a sensible measure for any company that prides itself as a champion of innovation, diversity and inclusion.

Why should we provide parental leave benefits to men?

Men want a greater role in child-rearing, especially at the very early stages of a child’s development.  Early participation is critical so that men believe, right from the beginning of a child’s life, that they are competent parents who can and will participate in raising children for the rest of their lives. They need support though from forward-thinking companies that offer parental leave benefits and that provide the institutional encouragement for men to take this leave. Unfortunately, according to a 2017 research report from the Society for Human Resource Management, fewer than 25 percent of U.S. employers offer paid paternity leave benefits . Thankfully, men like Mark Zuckerberg have had the courage and foresight to take his own parental leave and to speak out publicly about the importance of men taking time off with newborn children. In doing so, he has paved the way for men who want to actively participate in child-rearing. Men taking parental leave helps other members of the family as well. Studies have shown that spending time with both parents benefits newborn children, and also has physical, psychological and emotional benefits for the birth parent.

A mother swings her young son as they visit the cherry blossoms along the tidal basin in Washington. REUTERS/Jason Reed
A mother swings her young son as they visit the cherry blossoms along the tidal basin in Washington. REUTERS/Jason Reed

It’s a bit counterintuitive, so how does giving parental leave to men actually benefit women?

For years, companies have been trying (with somewhat mixed success) to advance women’s interests in the workplace. There is still a notable wage gap between men and women and a “glass ceiling” caused in large part by women taking long leaves (or leaving the workforce entirely) during critical periods in their careers to take care of children. Men want to help, and companies have learned they can reduce and eventually eliminate the stigma associated with women taking longer leaves by allowing men to do so. It seems like a fairly easy fix because it is, but it will take time and support of these programs to create an environment in which men start to feel comfortable actually using this available time off.

What about the LGBTQ community?

Members of the LGTBQ community are deciding to have and raise children in greater numbers. These parents want to feel supported in their careers and and their decision to have families. Gender-neutral parental leave, and extending parental leave benefits to adoption, eliminates traditional gender roles and allows members of this community who adopt to spend time with a new child.

It’s really exciting when the socially responsible thing to do also improves a company’s profitability

The United States is the only developed country in the world that does not mandate parental leave benefits for new parents, and it seems unlikely that this will happen in the near future. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics estimates that by 2030, 75 percent of the workforce will be millennials.  Survey after survey demonstrate that a top priority among millennials, perhaps even more important than financial reward, is a flexible work culture. This not only means offering the ability to work from home, but creating the possibility for work-life balance that benefits an employee’s whole family.

In this environment, socially responsible companies need to step up and provide the parental leave benefits that employees need and want. We know happy and well-rested employees bring their best and most creative self to work every day, and are more committed to the companies that provide them with work-life balance. This is especially true during exciting but challenging personal events, such as the birth of a child. The enhanced productivity and commitment from employees due to a generous and gender-neutral parental leave policy directly impacts a company’s profitability and will ultimately benefit all of its employees.

A father holds a paper windmill aloft as he wades in the waters of the Arabian Sea with his son and brother in Mumbai REUTERS/Vivek Prkash
A father holds a paper windmill aloft as he wades in the waters of the Arabian Sea with his son and brother in Mumbai REUTERS/Vivek Prkash

So when you ask yourself why companies should do this, the answer is simple – providing parental leave benefits for all new parents is a unique opportunity for socially responsible companies to benefit all of their employees while improving financial results. That’s an easy win-win solution for employees, U.S.-based companies, and the future of all American workers.


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