It’s Time to Empower Modern Families with Parental Leave

By: | November 7, 2018 • 3 min read
Jen Colletta is managing editor at HRE. She earned bachelor's and master's degrees in writing from La Salle University in Philadelphia and spent 10 years as a newspaper reporter and editor before joining HRE. She can be reached at [email protected]

As efforts to instate a mandated federal parental-leave policy remain stalled, many companies are taking the initiative to bolster benefits that promote a healthy work/life balance, especially as the competition for talent reaches all-time highs. Extending paid time off for new moms, allowing them to reduce their hours upon their return and formalizing flexibility are all options on the table—but, in light of new research, companies should be cognizant that their parental policies need to reflect the changing realities of modern families.

Pew Research Center recently released a report, based on an analysis of U.S. Census Bureau data, that found the percentage of stay-at-home parents is about the same—and actually slightly higher—compared to nearly 30 years ago. As of 2016, about 18 percent (11 million) of U.S. parents were not working outside the home, compared to 17 percent in 1989. While that steadiness may surprise some, what may be even more revealing is the rise of stay-at-home dads.

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The percentage of moms at home dropped slightly from 1989 to 2016, from 28 percent to 27 percent, but the share of stay-at-home fathers rose from 4 percent to 7 percent during that same time frame. Researchers noted that, even when they excluded men who were home for reasons other than child care—such as a job loss—they still found an upswing in stay-at-home fathers.

According to the research, this trend may continue to expand in the coming years: Six percent of millennial dads were stay-at-home parents, compared with 3 percent of Generation X fathers when they were about the same age. In 2000, about 23 percent of Gen X stay-at-home dads reported being home primarily for child care, compared to 26 percent of millennial dads in 2016.

Women are still more likely than men to stay home from work to raise kids, but the growing share of men who are taking up that role should be on the radar of HR—especially if Generation Z workers follow in the footsteps of their millennial predecessors. Corporate policies that aim to entice high-potential employees who are parents—promising work-from-home options or flexible schedules—without being inclusive of fathers are going to miss the mark in our changing reality. Extending parental policies and programs to fathers is just one step of building inclusive approaches, as modern families increasingly include LGBT, single and adoptive parents.

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Some companies have already seen the writing on the wall—unsurprisingly, many are in the tech sector. Netflix, for instance, offers a full year of paid leave for new parents, while Twitter provides 20 weeks and Facebook offers 17.4. Walmart’s “returnship” program—to help caregivers who took time off return to the workforce—is gender-neutral, while PwC has instituted a policy allowing new parents to return to work on a reduced schedule while retaining full pay.

The growing percentage of fathers interested in staying home to raise kids illustrates an opportunity for HR to make a healthy work/life balance more palatable for both men and women. As modern parenting continues to evolve, companies that cling to outdated “maternity leave” and other programs that emphasize women as primary caregivers may be left in the dust. The need for companies to be proactive on this issue becomes even more clear when looking at the context: The U.S. holds the distinction as the only country in the developed world that lacks a law requiring employers provide paid leave for new mothers. If paid maternity leave isn’t even a reality yet, full parental leave won’t be part of the American legislative landscape for some time.

Now is the time, then, for HR to step up to the plate and ensure mothers and fathers both know they can successfully balance their personal and professional aspirations.

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