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Harvard researchers say this is the ideal parental leave policy

When it comes to attracting and retaining talent, companies are hoping redesigned parental leave policies will help Millennials see a future on the corporate ladder. But, according to the Harvard Business Review, many leave policies are too stuck in the past to appeal to young people planning families. Rather, if corporations want Millennials to apply for and stay in jobs while having kids, an ideal leave policy would grant parental leave to all employees welcoming a child—regardless of gender and without forcing them to declare themselves the “primary” parent.


It seems many major employers are aware there is progress to be made on the parental leave front: During the last two years nearly 80 major companies have issued press releases after reworking theirs. Still, many policies remain mired in language that assumes one parent (most likely mom) will be staying home while the other works.

Companies need to delete the phrase “primary-caregiver” from their policies, because it’s basically a code word for “mother.” Its use ignores the possibility that equitably co-parenting couples can even exist.

According to the Harvard Business Review, of 75 updated parental leave policies profiled in a recent report by The Center for Law and Social Policy (CLASP) and the National Partnership for Women and Families, more than 34 percent required employees to label themselves as the primary caregiver in order to maximize leave benefits.

What’s more, some of the policies don’t even attempt to give fathers a chance at equal leave. One expressly states pregnant women are assumed to be the primary caregiver, and another says only the biological mother (or “primary caregiver” in cases of adoption) can maximize leave benefits.

In a world where 86 percent of American employees still have no access to paid parental leave, it can seem like having any leave policy at all is forward thinking. But when companies force parents to declare themselves a baby’s “primary caregiver” in order to access leave, they’re denying the modern reality of co-parenting.

We know fathers want to take on an equal share in parenting duties. So, when employers see them as a secondary parent, they can’t take the time they need and families are worse off for it.

As the Harvard Business Review notes, studies prove the more parental leave a dad has, the more likely mom is to go back to work full-time. Plus, moms who get paid leave are more likely to come back to work than those who don’t.

An ideal leave policy would therefore offer disability leave for women physically impacted by pregnancy or childbirth and parental leave for all employees, regardless of gender or caregiver status.

The stats show most Millennial couples are dual career families and Millennials will account for three-quarters of the American workforce within the next 10 years. Maybe a decade from now the leave policies will be rewritten by a generation that understands the importance of paid leave for all parents—although some more progress in the meantime would be nice, too.

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