Though the United States is one of just a handful of countries around the world that does not require organizations to grant their employees paid parental leave by law, recent years have seen more US states pursue mandates of their own, while a growing number of large, nationwide employers have voluntarily adopted more robust policies for working mothers and, increasingly, fathers and caregivers as well.
These trends have been driven by the public conversation and advocacy around parental leave, by a growing body of research showing the various benefits of parental leave to working families, and also by business considerations, as organizations struggle to attract and retain workers (particularly women) in a tight and competitive labor market. The latest research into what employees and candidates value, including Gartner’s Global Talent Monitor, shows that flexibility and work-life balance are becoming more and more important to the workforce. As millennials grow up and start families, this massive generational cohort is voicing a clear expectation that employers will support them—both moms and dads—in balancing career and family obligations.
Several developments have taken place in this area over the past month that employers should be aware of, as they illustrate the accelerating pace at which paid leave benefits are transforming from nice-to-have features to essential—and in a growing number of jurisdictions, mandatory—components of the employee value proposition.
Google revealed on Tuesday that it was phasing in a policy that will require its outside suppliers to provide health insurance, paid parental leave benefits, and a $15 minimum wage to employees working for the tech giant on a temporary or contract basis. The announcement was made in an internal memo issued to all employees and shared with the Hill:
Google will now require that the outside companies employing the workers provide them with comprehensive health care, a minimum wage of $15 per hour, 12 weeks of parental leave and a minimum of eight days of sick leave.
Google is beginning the efforts in the U.S., where there are not specific regulations around paid parental leave or comprehensive health care. Other countries in which the company operates have specific legislation around paid parental leave and other benefits. The company said it made sense to start in the U.S. because Google is setting a standard.
Google is giving the “suppliers” — companies that employ the temporary workers and contractors — until January to institute the minimum wage requirements. A Google spokesperson said it will give suppliers until 2022 to institute comprehensive health care benefits.
Google has faced increasing pressure from its “TVC” (temporary, vendor, and contractor) workers, as well as an activist community of its full-time employees, to improve the conditions under which TVCs work for the company. A day before the memo was issued, the Guardian reported on a letter signed by more than 900 Google workers calling for significant changes in the way the company deals with its contingent workforce. The letter originated from TVCs working on the global “personality team” responsible for crafting the voice for Google Assistant, most of whom had their contracts abruptly and unexpectedly shortened in early March:
A new analysis of US Census Bureau data by the Pew Research Center finds that stay-at-home fathers are becoming more common, suggesting a slow shift in parental roles that Pew says is driven by more than just economic considerations:
The stay-at-home share of U.S. parents was almost identical to what it was in 1989, but there has been a modest increase among fathers. The share of dads at home rose from 4% to 7%, while the share of moms staying at home remained largely unchanged – 27% in 2016 versus 28% about a quarter-century earlier. As a result, 17% of all stay-at-home parents in 2016 were fathers, up from 10% in 1989, the first year for which reliable data on fathers are available. …
However, the long-term uptick in dads at home is not driven solely by economic factors. The modest increase is apparent even after excluding those who were home due to unemployment. Furthermore, a growing share of stay-at-home fathers say they are home specifically to care for their home or family, suggesting that changing gender roles may be at play. About a quarter (24%) of stay-at-home fathers say they are home for this reason. Stay-at-home mothers remain far more likely than dads to say they are home to care for family – 78% say so.
Pew also finds that Millennial parents are more likely to be at home with their children than Gen X parents were at the same age in 1999-2000, with a particularly significant jump among fathers from 3 to 6 percent. A larger proportion of Millennial dads are staying home deliberately to care for family, rather than as a result of unemployment or for some other reason.
Identifying “stay-at-home parents” is increasingly difficult in the era of remote work and the gig economy, which Pew acknowledges. Parents are defined as “stay-at-home” based on their employment status during the year prior to the survey, which is similar to how the Census Bureau categorizes them:
“Equal Lives,” a new report prepared by the UK organization Business in the Community in partnership with Santander, sheds light on the needs, perceptions, and attitudes of working men and women in the UK regarding the balance of work and caregiving. Overall, the report finds that men want to be more involved in caring for their children and elderly parents, but feel hindered from doing so by a combination of organizational and public policies and societal expectations around gender roles. Some of the report’s key findings include:
- The majority of men (85%) agree they should be as involved in all aspects of childcare as women. At the same time, over nine in ten men believe it is equally acceptable for both women and men to take time out from employment in order to care for their family. …
- Even in organisations which have familyfriendly policies, men report concerns for career, progression, finances and a feeling that their caring duties are not as recognised as women’s and less appreciated by organisations.
- The ability to work flexibly is the organisational policy that both men and women find the most important when it comes to balancing work and care. However, takeup is significantly lower than its perceived importance.
- Many men say they would be encouraged to use policies to support them with balancing work and care if they were confident that it would not impact their career prospects or if there were more visible examples from senior leaders in their organisation.
“This finding resonates with the conversations we’ve had in our ongoing research with men and couples who opted to take shared parental leave,” professors Emma Banister and Ben Kerrane note at the Conversation. Enacted in 2015, the UK’s Shared Parental Leave policy grants new mothers (or “lead parents” in same-sex couples) a year of leave to divide between themselves and their partners in any proportion they choose. Take-up of SPL has been disappointingly low, which critics attribute to a lack of public awareness and the common practice among employers of “topping up” the statutory minimum of parental leave pay for mothers but not fathers. Beyond that, Banister and Kerrane’s research suggests that the scheme may be hindering itself by replicating the gender expectations it is meant to ameliorate:
Over the coming year, Microsoft will implement a policy requiring its suppliers in the US to provide their employees a minimum of 12 weeks paid parental leave, paid at up to $1,000 per week, Dev Stahlkopf, Corporate Vice President and General Counsel at Microsoft, announced in a blog post on Thursday:
This change applies to all parents employed by our suppliers who take time off for the birth or adoption of a child. The new policy applies to suppliers with more than 50 employees and covers supplier employees who perform substantial work for Microsoft. This minimum threshold applies to all of our suppliers across the U.S. and is not intended to supplant a state law that is more generous. Many of our suppliers already offer strong benefits packages to their employees, and suppliers are of course welcome to offer more expansive leave benefits to their employees.
Our new supplier parental leave requirement is informed by important work on paid parental leave done in states, including Washington. In 2017, Washington state passed family leave legislation, including paid parental leave. This new law will take effect in 2020. As we looked at this legislation, however, we realized that while it will benefit the employees of our suppliers in Washington state, it will leave thousands of valued contributors outside of Washington behind. So, we made a decision to apply Washington’s parental leave requirement more broadly, and not to wait until 2020 to begin implementation.
Like other major US tech companies, Microsoft relies on an undisclosed number of workers employed by third-party contractors; this so-called “shadow workforce” of contract laborers, who typically do not enjoy the same generous benefit packages as those directly employed by these companies, has been the subject of growing scrutiny and recent labor disputes, as GeekWire’s Nat Levy points out. Microsoft has faced controversy over its contingent workforce in the past, most notably in a high-profile lawsuit by “permatemps” in the 1990s. The company began putting standards on labor conditions at its US suppliers in 2015, when it began requiring that those with 50 or more employees grant a minimum of 15 days of annual paid time off to eligible employees.
Microsoft’s latest move intersection of several broad trends shaping the benefits space in the US today.
World map showing availability of government-mandated paid paternity leave (World Policy Center)
With Father’s Day just around the corner, a handful of new studies came out this week highlighting the challenges dads often face when it comes to taking time off to nurture their newborn children. While employees in many countries have come to expect maternity leave as a standard benefit, the availability, amount, and acceptance of paid paternity leave still lags. Looking at the government policy level, according to a new analysis from the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF), there are still 92 countries—including the United States—where there is no national policy mandating paid paternity leave for fathers, affecting an estimated two thirds of the world’s children under the age of one.
The paternity leave data came from the World Policy Analysis Center, which has published an interactive map and chart where it can sorted by region and national income level, as well as compared against maternity leave data. Not surprisingly, the gender gap between paid parental leave policies is significant, as very few countries—including the US— don’t mandate paid maternity leave.
Most organizations do offer both maternity and paternity leave, however, and typically more than the amount required by law. Gender-neutral parental leave policies are becoming more popular as well, as are lawsuits accusing organizations of discriminating against men when it comes to unequal parental leave benefits. But when paternity leave is available, men often perceive a stigma around taking it. A new survey from Promundo and Dove Men+Care of more than 1,700 US adults has highlighted this dynamic, finding that while men and women say they want to be equally involved in raising their children, men don’t feel comfortable taking paternity leave because they are worried about how prioritizing their children will be perceived by others, particularly at work:
A member of Parliament in the UK is pushing for employers to be more proactive in clarifying their parental leave policies to their current and prospective employees, introducing a bill that would require many organizations to publish their policies online, the BBC reported on Wednesday:
Jo Swinson, a Lib Dem MP, said this was “a simple and practically effortless change” that would improve transparency and encourage more competition on pay. It would help firms “better attract and retain talent”, she added. Human resources trade body the CIPD said publication could help tackle discrimination.
Ms Swinson said more than 54,000 women a year lose their jobs because of pregnancy and maternity discrimination, while fathers were worried about taking shared parental leave because of the negative effect on their careers. … The MP has tabled a bill in the Commons that would require firms with more than 250 employees to publish those policies. Prospective employees would have a clearer idea of parental leave policies without having to ask at interview, she said.
In arguing for her bill, Swinson noted that “the very act of asking” about parental leave “suggests to the employer that the candidate may be considering having a child.” A recent survey of UK employers found that most expected women candidates to disclose if they were pregnant or planning to become pregnant, and many managers would decline to hire a woman of childbearing age on that basis. Publishing these policies would enable candidates and employees to find out about them without having to reveal their intent to have children to a manager who might penalize them for it.
There is really no good reason for employers not to advertise their parental leave policies, as these and other family benefits are highly attractive to many candidates—particularly, but by no means exclusively, women. Our research at CEB, now Gartner, has found that the availability of parental leave has a significant positive impact on employees’ perceptions of their overall benefits package. A lack of family-friendly policies is often a key factor in driving women out of the workforce. (CEB Total Rewards Leadership Council members can view our data on parental leave and rewards perceptions here.)