It’s no secret that for US workers, paid parental leave benefits are among the worst in the world. And while little progress has been made on the policy side, more and more companies in the private sector are improving their benefit package for new parents and upping the game for everyone else.
Companies like Netflix, Google, and Facebook have revamped their benefit policies and have been surprisingly effective at pressuring other companies to do the same. But a movement is sweeping the creative industry and has called on some of the biggest names in design and innovation to rethink family leave in our industry.
The movement is called Pledge Parental Leave and its goal is to bring together like-minded companies who care about the well-being of their employees and their families so that they can redefine the standard parental leave benefit. Each company that makes the pledge agrees to four minimum standards for parental leave:
- 3 months fully paid leave for the primary caregiver
- 3 months uninterrupted medical insurance
- 6 months job security
- A commitment to making the policy openly available online
The movement was initiated by ustwo, a global digital product studio (and long-time 10,000ft Plans customer), and after two rounds of pledges, they've amassed iconic names in the digital and design sector like Veryday, IDEO, and Doberman. And as of today, we are thrilled to add our name to the list of companies who have taken the Pledge!
This is such an important conversation for our industry to be having, and Pledge Parental Leave has the potential to affect real change in the creative industry and beyond. We talked to Jules Ehrhardt, ustwo co-owner and one of the lead organizers behind Pledge Parental Leave, to get his thoughts on how the PPL got started and how he plans to get more companies to take the Pledge.
Family leave is such a hot topic in the creative and tech communities. Why do you think it's so important right now?
Jules: We’ve spoken to quite a few companies and one of our big takeaways is many of them are making the shift from doing the legal minimum, and are asking what is the right thing to do for their people. More companies are realizing that the amount of talent being wasted by the current lack of government-mandated leave is outrageous – and individuals, companies, and society at large are the poorer for it. The perspective of a working parent, male or female, is extremely valuable. And if we can get these policies right, then we can manage to bring that back. Aside from the sound economic case, it's also the right thing to do.
You’ve rounded up an impressive roster of companies to adopt the Pledge. How have you managed to have such great success right out of the gate?
Jules: Well part of it is due to my personal journey with parental leave. My family and I moved from the UK to open ustwo’s New York studio right before my second child was born. What I realized as I was setting up the NY office was I had the opportunity to define our benefits locally and quickly realized that we knew lots of other people that would be able to make that same call. So in terms of getting the movement started, the first step was reaching out to our peers and friends in the industry – people we knew who cared about their company and cared about the people in the company.
The second part was the decision to focus on the creative sector, which brings a sharp focus to an industry that employs so many, all of who are connected by a few degrees of Kevin bacon. We wanted to make sure we were speaking to a specific audience through a specific channel. So we’ve got design firms, we’ve got innovation firms, we’ve got a couple of startups like yourselves, and next we’d like to get more companies in the advertising and marketing industry, which employs a huge amount of people. The movement is trying to build a groundswell of leading brands. If we establish ourselves there and show that the leading brands really care about this issue, then we can draw that line in the sand and bring people across.
If we establish ourselves there and show that the leading brands really care about this issue, then we can draw that line in the sand and bring people across.
What do you think it will take to get larger companies with thousands of employees on board?
Jules: I think that comes in three parts. The first is to demonstrate the clear cost-benefit analysis. People often look at parental leave and think, “Why should I pay someone’s salary for three months when they are not working for me?” But if you look at the mathematics of it, the cost of losing that employee and having to replace them – between the recruiting fee, the 500 hours on average it takes to train someone up into a role, getting up to speed on everything else – far exceeds the cost of paid leave. So that’s the first thing a company needs to understand is that there is a cost-benefit to make this investment in your employees.
The second part is a shift in mindset. I know firsthand that there are few people more efficient than working parents, especially working mothers. Whatever preconceptions there are about working parents, few others are as focused on what needs to get done, when it needs to get done.
I know firsthand that there are few people more efficient than working parents.
And lastly, if you have a company, be it a startup (especially a startup) or an agency, you demand commitment from your people. You demand commitment that they are not going to take that job offer from Google. You demand commitment that they stick with you through hard economic times or challenging projects. Genuine commitment needs to go both ways. You have to offer that same commitment to your employees when they go through a major life event. If we can get people to see these three things, I think they’ll see that this is a no-brainer.
We’re going to play devil’s advocate for a minute – doesn’t an employee risk losing relevance by taking extended leave?
Jules: You raise a good point and that’s especially true in digital, design, and engineering where the universe shifts every six months. I mean, who was talking about conversational UI three months ago? So yeah, we’ve got to put strategies in place to bring people back but make sure they have the balance to be comfortable doing both. We don’t want people having to check their bloody email during their leave; those three months are sacred.
That’s where the secondary goals of the movement come in – how do the companies who take the Pledge provide and share strategies for helping their employees transition in and out of leave. I’m very conscious that this is a complex equation and we are solving parts of it. The goal is to create a community of companies who can share that information. There is a lot of work to be done there.
Tell us about the fourth standard – posting the benefits publicly. Why was it important to have that be part of the Pledge?
Jules: There is a stigma attached to talking about the parental leave benefit. Sadly, a lady in her 30s in a job interview isn’t going to go near asking about parental leave benefits. She’ll ask about the role, salary, pension, but she won’t go near asking about the parental leave benefit and that quite frankly is a bullshit situation. The idea behind encouraging companies to post their policies openly is that the information will be freely available so people won’t have to ask. Many companies don’t make their policies freely available, even internally, and if we can de-stigmatize the entire conversation, that’s a key goal. So it’s literally about overcoming that stigma and providing a complete picture for current and potential employees.
After two rounds of companies making the Pledge, has anything been unexpected?
Jules: What has been interesting to me was that at first it didn’t feel so natural reaching out to our competitors. These are some of the world’s leading innovation and design firms and we compete for clients and talent. What was really heartening was that within minutes of sending the first batch of emails out about joining the Pledge, we had four companies on board. When we met, there was nothing but care for our people and our industry. I think we realized we all had a lot more to gain from being friends and helping to improve our industry than whatever the traditional definition of being competitors is.
I think we realized we all had a lot more to gain from being friends and helping to improve our industry than whatever the traditional definition of being competitors is.
How To Get Involved
The Pledge Parental Leave website has a ton of information about how to start this conversation at your company. If your company would like to join the Pledge or if you have questions, visit www.pledgepl.org or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Even if you agree with the philosophy, we understand there might be barriers in the way of making it happen at your company. In the meantime, here are some ideas for how you can help support the movement and move your company closer to taking the Pledge:
- Talk about the issue with friends, colleagues, your company leadership -- to get the momentum we need, everyone needs to be talking about this
- Share Pledge Parental Leave on your social networks
- Follow Pledge Parental Leave on Twitter: www.twitter.com/pledgepl
- If you're in a position to change the policy at your company, download the policy template and do the right thing