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Equality in Parental Leave Policies

Illustration of penguin parents and baby penguin - equality in parental leave policies - kiwi partners - united State

Parental leave policies can be a complicated topic for some organizations, from a cultural and compliance perspective. In New York State, both parents can take time to bond with a newborn or adoptive child. Organizations may have been providing paid time off prior to the New York Paid Family Leave Law but are having difficulty merging their policies with the state’s law. Some organizations have eliminated their maternity leave policy and replaced it with parental leave, which is more inclusive. However, other organizations seek to distinguish between the two and only allow maternity leave believing that a baby primarily needs their mother, although studies show that both parents play an integral role in the development of a healthy child.

While nearly 100% of women who are offered paid parental leave will utilize this benefit, a study conducted by Ball State University found that less than 5% of men will take two or fewer weeks of parental leave. The lack of leave taking can not only affect the well-being of new parents but can also cause issues in the workplace by perpetuating the idea that women should be the primary caregiver.

If mothers are the only ones to take parental leave, inequality in housework and child-rearing increases. But when fathers also take parental leave, housework and child caring are shared more equally. One study found that by encouraging fathers to take parental leave, their participation in household duties increased by 250%.

Maternity and paternity leave are differentiated by using the terms primary caregiver vs. secondary caregiver, with primary caregivers typically given more time to spend with their child and sometimes more paid time off. Distinguishing between maternal and paternal caregivers is discriminatory and an unacceptable practice on many levels. In today’s world, we no longer think in terms of primary caregiver vs. secondary caregiver. As a working mother, I needed my partner’s help, and they wanted to be equally involved as a parent in our newborn’s development. Furthermore, the notion of primary vs. secondary caregiver has no consideration for other types of caregivers, such as male or female gay couples or adoptive parents. According to SHRM, JP Morgan paid $5 million in 2019 to settle a class action lawsuit for employees who were "denied access to the same paid parental leave as mothers between 2011 and 2017". The class action was brought forward by the American Civil Liberties Union, which claimed that men were discriminated against when seeking parental leave.

In a time when talent acquisition is more challenging than ever, offering equal parental leave provides reputational benefits for organizations and increases employee productivity and retention. Nonprofits must stand out from large for-profit organizations that engage in corporate social responsibility and often cultivate diversity and inclusion initiatives ahead of the nonprofit community. In a few years, the millennial generation will make up 75% of the workforce, and most of them are part of a two-career household. The more help each parent gets from the other; the more likely the other will return to work.

As we move to improve gender equality, consider implementing the following at your organization:

  1. Expand paternity policy to match maternity policy – call it parental leave instead.

  2. Help leadership understand and support parental leave – move away from stereotyping what a male vs. female role plays in a child's upbringing.

  3. Build a culture that supports equal parental leave – encourage men to take leave and educate line managers so they can be supportive.

Key Takeaway: Treat mothers better by allowing them to recover from childbirth using disability leave. Employers cannot treat parents differently when it comes to bonding with a child and must provide equal pay leave to ALL parents or risk a gender discrimination claim.

Hillary Rau and Joan C Williams wrote it simply in a 2017 Harvard Business Review article; “When it comes to leave for new parents, you need just two simple categories: disability leave for women who are physically unable to work due to pregnancy, childbirth, or related conditions, and parental leave that’s equally available to all employees, regardless of gender or caregiver status.”

Contact Kiwi Partners if you need assistance developing and implementing a leave policy for your nonprofit organization.


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