For Etsy and more companies, parental leave is for dads, too

Etsy joins a small but growing number of companies expanding their parental leave policies and extending an equal amount of paid time off to their employees, regardless of gender. 

Mark Lennihan/AP/File
Kristina Salen, center left, Etsy’s Chief Financial Officer, stands with Chad Dickerson, center right, Chairman and Chief Executive Officer of Etsy, to celebrate the company's IPO with employees and guests at the Nasdaq MarketSite, Thursday, April 16, 2015, in New York.

Etsy is offering an ample new parental leave policy.

Starting on April 1, all new parents who work for the online marketplace will be able to take 26 weeks off after the arrival of a child via birth or adoption.

What’s noteworthy about Etsy's new policy is that it will apply to both men and women. In most companies' paid leave policies, “primary” caregivers, a designation largely applied to women, are able to claim more time off.

Etsy’s previous policy gave “primary” caregivers 12 weeks of paid time off, and “secondary” caregivers five paid weeks.

“We designed our new parental leave policy to be flexible, gender-blind and to counteract unconscious bias. We want to support and enable parents, regardless of their gender, to play equal roles in building successful companies and nurturing their families,” Etsy communications director Juliet Gorman wrote in an announcement Tuesday on Etsy’s corporate blog.

Dr. Ellen Scott, professor of sociology at the University of Oregon, lauded the policy's inclusiveness. "It is up to the leadership in a workplace to set the tone, and Etsy is doing a great service by stating that they seek to be gender neutral and counteract unconscious bias," she writes in an e-mail to The Christian Science Monitor.

The announcement comes on the heels of changes that companies like Netflix, Spotify, and Facebook have made to their paid leave policies to allow men and women equal time off. In November, Amazon also introduced a comprehensive leave policy, that gives 20 weeks of paid time off to new mothers or new fathers, as well as the option to gently ease back into a full work schedule. 

The United States has no paid leave policy. Under the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) of 1993, workers can receive 12 weeks of unpaid leave for things like the birth of a child without the risk of losing their job, but only about 60 percent of workers qualify. Even then, many can't afford the lost income. The Labor Department estimates that just 12 percent of the US labor force has access to any paid parental leave. 

"For those without the privilege of paid leave to provide care during times of illness or emergency, families lose wages when performing this necessary obligation at best, and at worst some risk their jobs because employers refuse to be flexible with time off for family care," Dr. Scott explains.

Writing for the Atlantic, Bourree Lam argues that these new paid leave programs put companies on par with leave programs offered abroad, making them more attractive for young, global talent. For example, Iceland has one of the most generous paid-leave programs in the world: workers get nine months in total, which is then split evenly between the parents. 

Many large companies are revamping their benefits packages with the goal of attracting and retaining a Millennial workforce, a trend that isn't limited to young tech companies like Facebook and Spotify. Fidelity announced Tuesday that it would be increasing its offered maternity leave to 16 weeks and paternity leave to six weeks. Additionally, the financial services firm is starting up a new student loan repayment program, in which Fidelity will contribute $2,000 a year towards student loan repayments for those employees who have been with the company for at least six months. Employees can earn up to $10,000 overall. 

The issue of paid family leave has gained traction on the political side as well, become a popular talking point on both sides of the aisle. Both Bernie Sanders and Hillary Clinton support paid family leave, although they disagree about how to put those plans into place. Marco Rubio, before he dropped out of the presidential race, created his own paid leave proposal. And in October, Washington, D.C. introduced a bill that would make it the first city in the United States to fund paid family leave for its residents. At the state level, Pennsylvania, New Jersey, and California have also caught onto the idea in the past few years.     

Although family leave programs are expanding, it remains to be seen whether men will take advantage of them at the same rate that women have in the past. Men at Facebook only take half the time off that is offered them, reports The New York Times.

But there are small signs that could be shifting. In November, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg’s announced that he would take two months of parental leave after the birth of his daughter, Max. What's more, research showing that paid leave improves parental and infant health is gaining traction. 

"[P]aid leave is fundamentally  necessary to allow workers to perform at their best on the job and simultaneously care for their families when the need arises," Dr. Scott says.

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