In May, I celebrated a new addition — my first child, Max. As a new parent and leader, it’s been an exciting, if slightly anxiety-inducing time, and has reminded me how fortunate my partner and I were to have the ability to take time off away from work to adjust to our new [adorable] reality.
Returning to work, with all the juggling and unpredictable challenges that inevitably entails, has also reinforced my belief that it’s critical for employers to support new parents beyond simply providing leave (thanks Paradigm!). If you want to be a best-in-class employer, there’s a lot to think about beyond how many weeks of leave you offer. Here are a few questions to consider as you reflect on your own organization’s parental support policies:
- To whom do you offer leave, and how much do you provide? It’s important to provide paid leave for all new parents and ensure your policies feel inclusive. Consider removing gendered terminology from your leave policies (this can exclude LGBTQ+ parents) and eliminating distinctions between “primary” and “secondary” caregivers (which reinforce outdated gender norms), for example.
- I recently heard from an organization that didn’t offer parental leave to men, because they were sure no one would use it. Does your organization do anything to encourage people to take leave? Do you have any norms that might discourage people from taking it? Having a policy in place is insufficient if people don’t feel empowered to use it.
- Do you have any benefits designed to support parents in returning from leave? I’ve learned firsthand how significant this transition can be, and employer support can go a long way towards helping parents return successfully. Part-time or flexible working arrangements, childcare subsidies, and breastmilk shipping are just a few examples of how you can support new parents when they return.
- Do you provide a comfortable, clean, and private space for new parents to express milk? I’ve heard some horrible stories recently from friends who’ve had to use unacceptable and unsanitary options, like bathrooms or broom closets, for pumping. Beyond being potentially illegal, this presents significant hurdles for parents who want to return to work while continuing to provide breastmilk for their babies.
Making small policy changes can go a long way in easing new parents’ return to the job during an overwhelming time. While our legal protections in the United States — the only industrialized country in the world to not guarantee paid family leave — have a long way to go, best-in-class employers have the opportunity to set a higher bar for supporting employees and their families.