Tech Companies Take Big Leaps On Family Leave

7241780178_d6f12e91cd_oLess than a week after Netflix announced that it would being offering corporate employees up to a year off to care for new babies, both Microsoft and Adobe Systems Inc. have joined the rising tide of tech companies with progressive parental leave policies.

Last Wednesday, Microsoft announced that all new parents will receive 12 weeks of paid parental leave, with birth mothers getting an extra eight paid weeks on disability. Adobe Systems Inc. followed suit this week with a declaration that it will offer 16 weeks of paid parental leave to parents who are primary caregivers, with another 10 weeks for birth mothers, and four paid weeks to non-primary caregivers. (For Adobe, the “primary caregiver” is whichever parent is most responsible for the new child during work hours.)

Yet neither company’s family leave policies compare to the flexibility and freedom offered by Netflix, which prides itself on treating its employees like “fully formed adults.”

“We want employees to have the flexibility and confidence to balance the needs of their growing families without worrying about work or finances,” Tawni Cranz, Netflix’s chief talent officer, wrote in a Tuesday blog post. “Parents can return part-time, full-time, or return and then go back out as needed. We’ll just keep paying them normally, eliminating the headache of switching to state or disability pay.”

These policies echo those at companies like Twitter, Apple and Facebook, which are often lauded for fostering innovative work cultures in order to attract talent. In fact, according to The New York Times, six of the 10 best American family leave policies can be found in the technological ecosystem of Silicon Valley. (Netflix knocked Facebook out of the top spot, despite the social media giant’s offer of four months’ paid leave for both parents plus $4,000 bonuses for every child born or adopted into a family.) In light of the fact that the United States does not require that American corporations offer paid maternity leave at all, these companies’ embrace of paid family leave is even more startling and impressive.

Among 185 nations and territories surveyed by the United Nations’ International Labor Organization, only Oman and Papua New Guinea share the United States’ lack of government-guaranteed paid maternity leave. Thanks to the Family and Medical Leave Act of 1993, only American corporations above a certain size must offer 12 weeks’ of unpaid leave to parents. U.S. Secretary of Labor Thomas Perez is interested in changing that.

“There are businesses that have voluntarily instituted paid leave programs [that] have seen their stock prices actually go up, and businesses that are the first in their area to do it have seen their stock prices rise even higher,” Perez said in a 2014 chat on paid family leave with The Huffington Post. “Because when you’re competing for human capital, if my wife or I are looking for jobs, one of the things we’re looking at is what sort of flexibility do you have. So it’s part of being competitive in the global economy.”

Yet just mandating that companies pay new mothers who go on leave, or even adopting a radical policy like Netflix, still leaves women in the workforce with more than a few unanswered questions. Will mothers still face a “mommy penalty”? Will fathers still refuse to even use up their paternity leave? Netflix already tells employees to take as much vacation as they like—but employees frequently end up taking less vacation because they don’t know what’s expected of them. Will parents on leave feel the same way?

Only time will tell for Microsoft, Adobe and Netflix. But there is hope: After all, when Google increased its paid maternity leave from 12 to 18 weeks in 2007, the rate at which new mothers left the company fell by half.

Photo courtesy of Flickr user Teza Harinaivo Ramiandriosalicensed under Creative Commons 2.0.





Carter Sherman is a former Ms. editorial intern. She recently graduated from Northwestern University, where she studied journalism and international studies, and has previously interned at Elle and Los Angeles Magazine. Follow her on Instagram at @heyyymizcarter.