IBM Expands Parental Leave to 20 Weeks for New Mothers

IBM Expands Parental Leave to 20 Weeks for New Mothers

IBM has joined the list of tech companies overhauling their parental leave policies to court working mothers in the US. The company’s VP of Employee Benefits, Barbara Brickmeier, announced on Wednesday that the company had updated its parental leave policy, applying retroactively to IBM babies born or adopted after November 2016: New mothers will now have up to 20 weeks of paid leave, rather than 14, and leave for new fathers, partners, and adoptive parents has been doubled from six to 12 weeks.

Parents can take this time off at any time during the first year after the birth or adoption, and IBM will also reimburse up to $20,000 of employees’ adoption of surrogacy expenses. Brickmeier also highlights some other changes the tech giant has made to support parents, especially mothers, in its workforce:

As medical diagnosis has improved, our society has recognized the potential of special needs services for children. Our Special Care for Children Assistance Plan reimburses employees $50,000 towards applicable services for each child with mental, physical or developmental disabilities.

In addition, we continue to adapt our popular family-friendly programs, which include:

  • Our 2015 milk delivery program for nursing moms who travel on business has been expanded to international travel;
  • Childcare center and after-school center discounts across the U.S.;
  • Expanding expectant mother parking to IBM locations across 50 states;
  • Investing in child care centers with guaranteed priority status for IBM families through our Global Work/Life Fund;
  • A range of maternity and mindfulness services;

IBM already scored high on indices of working-mother-friendly employee benefits and corporate environments, and is both following and driving forward an industrywide benefits war to attract and retain working mothers to help fill their talent gaps. It has also developed, in partnership with iRelaunch, a re-entry program for mid-career women who have taken extended career breaks, such as to care for a child or elderly parent.

Another feature of IBM’s culture Brickmeier identifies as pro-parent is “work flexibility – a hallmark of IBM’s culture. Flex-time is available to IBM parents who need to pick up a child from school, go to a doctor’s appointment, or attend a special event.” However, IBM has also taken away one form of flexibility from thousands of employees—namely, the ability to work remotely, which the company scaled back earlier this year in an effort to boost productivity, teamwork, and morale.

The company’s decision to co-locate much of its remote workforce into regional headquarters drew fierce criticism from commentators who see a distributed workforce as inevitable for digital organizations. Co-location could also be disruptive to families and put working parents at a disadvantage, Quartz’s Oliver Staley points out:

For some, regularly heading into the office means upending carefully constructed childcare arrangements. For others, it means relocating or quitting. In a blog post, IBM said only 5,000 remote workers have been recalled, but many more people are affected when family members impacted by a major change like this are considered.

IBM deserves praise for its generous parental-leave plan. Ultimately, though, being family friendly means understanding parents have children for more than a year, and building policies that support workers with children after the paid leave has expired.