There’s been a resurgence of discussion about paid parental leave thanks to a recent op-ed written by Reddit co-founder, and new dad, Alexis Ohanian. He speaks to the disparity in paid parental leave programs between people in high paying jobs versus low paying ones. Ohanian rightly calls for paid parental and family leave policy at the National level.
His other argument—and the one I’m interested in talking about here—centers on the importance of actually taking the paid leave. Many large tech companies these days do offer fully paid leave for birth and non-birth parents—and that is fantastic. But what you may not know is that these moms and dads often face immense pressure to get back to work. How do we encourage all parents to utilize their time off?Ohanian writes, “The more men who step up to take parental leave, the better for both our families and for all women in the workforce.” He’s right.
I believe that the tech industry can make big contribution to delivering a parental leave policy at the national scale if we encourage new parents to actually utilize leave programs in the way that’s best for them. The tech industry is making it a standard to offer paid parental leave programs. Now we need to make it a standard to actually take it.
So how do we encourage all parents to utilize their time off?
Applying the Technology Adoption Life Cycle curve to parental leave
As we’ve learned from the Technology Adoption Life Cycle, every large-scale behavior change is introduced by a set of Innovators and beta tested by a set of Early Adopters, after which the majority of people in the bell curve (Early Majority & Late Majority) will follow.
Acting as the Innovators and Early Adopters on the paid parental leave version of the adoption life cycle, tech workers can play an important role driving this new normal forward—but they have to actually utilize the leave they’re given.
Looking at paid parental leave globally, America is definitively in the Laggard category as the only country in the developed world without guaranteed paid leave for new mothers or fathers. However, there is one part of the workforce on the other side of the curve and that is the tech industry. Many major tech companies and—even small startups—offer paid parental leave programs ranging from 4 to 52 weeks.
Acting as the Innovators and Early Adopters on the paid parental leave version of the adoption life cycle, tech workers can play an important role driving this new normal forward—but they have to actually utilize the leave they’re given. By utilizing paid leave programs, dads can reset the cultural standard of what is ‘normal.’Dads in particular, as exhibited by Ohanian, have an opportunity to follow Gandhi’s advice to, “be the change you wish to see in the world.” By utilizing paid leave programs, dads can reset the cultural standard of what is ‘normal.’
My experience becoming a parent, as I wrote about previously, is that there can be a lot of shame and confusion around transition from pre- to post-baby life, how/when to take leave, and the return to work.
Extending leave times is a nice start, but there is much more organizations need to do to support their working parents to navigate this major life change. Here’s some ideas on how to do it:
Three no-cost things your organization can do to encourage parents to take leave
1. Talk about it.
Create socialization times that new parents can attend, such as team lunches, when parents aren’t rushing home to pick up kids from other caregivers. These times help to create the space for parents to chat about their experience with peers at work.
“We all experience shame. We’re all afraid to talk about it. And, the less we talk about it, the more we have it…If we cultivate enough awareness about shame to name it and speak to it, we’ve basically cut it off at the knees.”
Another way to encourage sharing of experiences is by creating a #parenting channel in Slack (or whatever interoffice communication you use). This helps normalize the leave and return process by allowing parents to learn from and commiserate with one another and establish that this discussion is okay to have at work.
In my experience becoming a parent, there can be a lot of shame and confusion around how/when to take leave, and the return to work.43% of new moms quit their job within the first three months of returning to work. Even 50% of men report they’ve passed up work opportunities, switched jobs or quit after babies arrive.
When I saw that figure while pregnant, I thought it was shockingly high. Now I get it. I seriously wrestled with the temptation of quitting to escape the fear of being a low performer. I would have rather quit than suck at my job. Hearing similar stories, including those of women turning down promotions after they returned from maternity leave, or dads only taking two out of 12 paid weeks off, I realized I wasn’t alone in this struggle.
2. Allow the parent to customize leave to their needs.
When I was out on maternity leave, I only went completely out of touch for 2 weeks. After that I started having once per week 1:1s on an alternating schedule with the two teams I sat on. This enabled me to be available as a thought partner to the people covering my areas and to stay in touch with the business. It also allowed me to spend the remaining 95% of my time concentrating on my new baby and not wondering or worrying what was going on at work.
As a counter example, I have a mom friend who had to turn in her laptop during her maternity leave. For four months she was expected to go completely dark. This would have given me tremendous anxiety to be so out of touch. Being able to unplug completely might be ideal for some, but it wasn’t my friend’s choice, it was her only option.
Creating choice allows the parent to tailor their leave to what will best meet their unique needs. While some people might do best with a big chunk of uninterrupted leave, others might thrive with an earlier return to work and shortened work week for a period of time. Flexibility is a massive support your organization can provide to help retain valuable employees as they find their footing as new parents.As much as I want to see more new parents making use of their leave time, I don’t like to hear well-intended shaming of people who choose to not totally unplug or return early.
Every new parent is different and their needs will be different. Having a first child is a big life change and some new parents may not know what they need right away. Flexibility is a massive support your organization can provide to help retain valuable employees as they find their footing as new parents. At Amplitude, we allow for new parents to utilize their paid time-off in whatever exercise cadence makes sense for their family.
3. Give equal leave to moms AND dads.
This is a common debate in HR circles as to whether maternity leave should be longer than paternity leave or sometimes tweaked to be more appropriate “primary caregiver leave” vs. secondary caregiver leave. While as a mom I appreciate the slight head nod that the actual pregnancy/birthing process can be seriously exhausting, shortening the leave time for dads or non-birthing parents reduces support for those exhausted moms—not to mention reducing bonding time with the new little ones.
We have a 12-week parental leave policy at Amplitude, period.Whether dads choose to use their leave time at the start to help mom recover and co-parent or to use the time later on so that their partner can return to work…either one is a critical contribution. We have a 12-week parental leave policy at Amplitude, period.
With awareness of the subtle and not-so-subtle stresses affecting new parents, organizations can examine the benefits, culture, and return-to-work programs they provide to support new parents. And in turn, enable those parents in Ohanian’s words to, “Go forth and take selfies with your kid” to help America be a place where time with your baby is the norm, rather than the exception.