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Is Gender-Blind Time Off Right for Your Company?

Is Gender-Blind Time Off Right for Your Company?

When you think about parental leave, what comes to mind? Chances are you thought of a female employee taking off a month or two to bond with the new baby. But where’s dad in this picture? If he was lucky, he saved up a week or two’s worth of vacation and then it was back to work. And what about same-sex couples? Who gets to take off, and how is that determined?

In the last few years, a growing number of American companies have challenged long-held assumptions about parental leave, by establishing gender-blind policies for workers taking time off when a new child joins the family. Read on to learn about gender-blind time off and whether it’s right for your business.

What is Gender-Blind Leave?

Gender-blind leave is paid time off for an employee with a new child, regardless of whether the employee is male or female or carried the baby. These gender-blind time off policies don’t distinguish between primary and secondary caregivers, or offer a separate, usually lesser paternal leave. They are founded upon the notion that every parent deserves the opportunity to spend time with their baby in those early weeks and months, without having to worry about negative impacts on their career.

So far, the gender-blind approach is gaining the most traction as a competitive perk in the tech industry and in large corporations. Among the high-profile companies offering gender-neutral leave are Netflix, Reddit, Patagonia, Bank of America, Etsy, Facebook, Indeed, Deloitte, and TIAA.

The Current State of Parental Leave

Today, gender-neutral leave is offered by only a very small percentage of U.S. companies, and many organizations don’t offer paid parental leave of any kind.

In the US, federal law requires 12 weeks of job protection for new mothers, with no requirement for full or partial pay during that period. This makes it one of the only industrialized countries that doesn’t guarantee paid maternity leave. Offering full or partial paid leave to mothers and/or fathers is left up to individual companies.

Because many people can’t afford to lose wages for any amount of time, a handful of states—California, New Jersey, Rhode Island, and New York—have established paid family leave benefits that offer partial wage coverage for one to two months.

A 2017 sample survey of 920 US companies by the Society of Human Resource Management and the Family and Work Institute found that companies offering some form of paid leave grew from 46 percent to 58 percent between 2005 and 2016. In that same period, however, the number of companies offering full salary during leave dropped from 17 percent to 10 percent, and the length of the leave fell from 15.2 weeks to 14.5 weeks.

Only 12 percent of the private sector workforce has access to paid family leave through their employer, according to the US Department of Labor.1

The Benefits of Gender-Blind Leave

The benefits of paid maternity leave include increased female participation in the labor force, improvement in early childhood development, and increased worker retention that saves companies high employee turnover costs.2

There isn’t much data yet to provide insights into the value of gender-blind time off for families and businesses. But some early results shared by Etsy are promising. In 2016, the e-commerce marketplace for handcrafted products established a gender-blind leave policy allowing 26 weeks of paid leave through the first two years of a child’s life, whether the employees are moms or dads.

Etsy stated the new leave policy was influenced by research showing mothers fared worse in promotions and salary than women without children, and that fathers who took leave experienced lower performance ratings and decreased future earnings compared with men who didn’t. Millennial expectations of more parental responsibility sharing than previous generations, and lower levels of maternal depression when a partner took leave, were also factored into Etsy’s decision to create the gender-neutral policy.

In a follow-up post on its website nine months after the new leave became available, Etsy shared that half of the workers who took it were women and half were men, and that 35 percent of those employees were promoted shortly before, during, or after taking leave. Among the employees receiving promotions, 41 percent moved up to director positions and higher.3

Gender-blind leave is still in its infancy, and much of the buzz around it is anecdotal at this point. But societal expectations of parental roles are shifting, and companies would likely benefit from male and female employees who get to spend time with their new babies without jeopardizing their career growth.

Need more information? Contact Hudson.


1 United States Department of Labor. DOL Factsheet: Paid Family and Medical Leave. Web. Updated June 2015
2 Ibid.
3 Gorman, Juliet. "Early Results on Gender-Blind Parental Leave at Etsy." Etsy News. Web. 30 July 2017.

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