United States, follow Netflix and Norway. Prove you value family and mandate parental leave.
When I heard the Netflix announcement of unlimited maternity and paternity leave for salaried employees, I thought it’s about time. And, there are larger implications for corporate environments to create more family friendly work environments with more flexible work schedules, unlimited vacation policies, breakrooms stocked with free and healthy snacks, play areas with ping pong tables, greater childcare options, paid leave, sabbaticals after a certain tenure, etc. I have worked at these companies. My business development career after graduate school started during the dot com boom in Seattle. I did my summer internship at Microsoft. Many companies were starting these policies; they paid less than their competitors, but they were fun places to work; employees felt valued. My co-workers were like-minded, bright, interesting and creative. I loved going to work and I worked hard. I didn’t mind traveling and working late and breathing the company air. These companies, at least where I worked, fostered a warm, community-oriented environment. However, if management didn’t really buy in, it didn’t work. Even one person. It didn’t ruin everything, but it was noticeable.
That said, when it worked, it was fantastic. At the time, the no-limit vacation was my favorite. I was single, got married to a co-worker, and took a week for the wedding and two for the honeymoon. I didn’t miss a deadline, a project, or a meeting, because I had everything covered. I earned a three week vacation because I got my work done. I also took more time off during that year. I am since divorced and moved to freelance long before that, but I know many other policies that would have appealed to me, and my ex-husband. Most specifically, more equal, generous, and realistic parental leave.
Many of these corporate changes are important to families. And, I’m thrilled to see companies falling in line with Netflix to adopt even more family friendly policies than those germinating in the 1990s. Today, I work from home, so I don’t answer to anyone except an editorial schedule. As a parent, what stuns me, is still outdated, and sexist, parental leave policies. And I applaud Netflix for gender neutralizing parenting. I hope others follow suit.
I am stymied by the fact that so many supposed forward thinking companies don’t have paternity leave of any substance. And, I am even more disappointed that America does not have mandated parental leave. Netflix is setting a great example for other corporations, but I would like to see this nationwide. I would consider this an issue similar to, albeit perhaps not as broad reaching, marriage equality. Why not parent equality? When two men, who work in traditional companies, have a child, they do not have the same opportunity to bond with that child, raise that child the way a heterosexual couple (with leave) does, without some financial or other sacrifice.
According to a 2013 study by the International Labour Organization, the United States has no mandate for companies to provide parental leave. This includes maternity leave, although some companies provide leave for mothers. The US Government does not provide maternity leave. In Norway, parents get 70 days, and then an additional 26 weeks on full salary or 36 at 80% pay. Sweden gives 40 days to both parents, and an additional 420 days to be shared by both parents. On full salary. Don’t like Northern Europe? Move to Spain, you’ll get 15 days, which is not much, but then you can take three years off, unpaid, and go back to your job. In France, for your first child, you’ll get eleven days and then six months. Paid. Now these are cultures that value family. They don’t just say it in political campaigns, they prove it with their policies. And there are more.
What Netflix has done, to my mind, is what every company must. We must start valuing, and prove we do financially, the role of mother and father equally. It would be marketing genius if Netflix paired this announcement with an equal pay for equal work announcement. All parents created equal, all workers created equal. Your gender does not determine if you are a primary caregiver just as it does not determine if you are a good manager, VP or CEO. Netflix?
Why does a mother have more leave than a father? Why does a father have little to no leave? We know why this was, say 50 years ago. It is 2015. For decades, many decades, families have been made up of so much other than the traditional heterosexual couple. Two mothers as primary parents, single parent by choice, two fathers as primary parents, foster parents, adoption, surrogacy, need I go on? What then if there is no paternity leave and both father’s work? And even in a traditional heterosexual family, bonding with baby is crucial for both parents as is relief for the mother who gave birth.
After the birth of my second child, I suffered severe postpartum depression (PPD). Yet my then-husband was back at work after two weeks, if that. He’d come home, exhausted and I’d hand him the baby and curl up into a ball. It put a huge strain on our marriage. Additionally, it was hard on our older son, and was not a great way to bond as a family, together, or even one-on-one with baby. Survival mode doesn’t begin to describe where we were. Had he been home, on paternity leave for a longer time, it would have been easier on everyone, and would have fostered a stronger familial bond. I would probably have had a shorter bout of PPD as well.
If a baby was adopted, perhaps from another country, bonding is also crucial for both parents. In some cases, if the baby was in an orphanage s/he may not have seen many men. My father and stepmother adopted a girl from China. She had been in an orphanage with only women for 18 months. When she first saw my father she screamed. And screamed and screamed. She had not ever seen a man, let alone a white one with a beard. It took slowly introducing him (and shaving) to allow her to adjust. Without the flexibility of paternity leave, or in his case, working freelance, she would have experienced more trauma. She’s now eleven and has a very strong bond with both her parents. In fact, my dad, her dad, is her primary caregiver. My stepmother is the breadwinner.
I applaud Netflix, and other companies who follow and put paternity policies in place. Kudos to companies that create more family friendly environments in any way possible with flex-time, telecommuting, job-sharing and more. But I call out the United States as the real culprit here. We need to do better. If we want to create families that eat dinner together, kids who stay in school, parents who marry and stay together, stronger families, fewer kids in foster care, one way I believe we can support that is to create equality for all parents. Moms and dads. A parent is a parent is a parent. Kids need to be loved and taken care of. Two dads? Treat them with the respect they deserve and create friendly workplace environments that allow them to be parents. They are raising future scientists, leaders, physicians, artists, presidents, and parents.
Photo courtesy of DADsquared