Boston entrepreneur Idit Klein has 18 employees in her small business and offers them a parental leave policy: Anyone who has worked for the company for at least two years gets three months off, fully paid, to care for a new child.
There are two things you should know about this: First, it’s good for business. And, second, if Massachusetts had a paid family leave program as some other states do, Klein’s business would be even better off.
“In the long term, I believe that in addition to being the right thing to do, our family leave policy helps us keep and attract top-level staff,” she told me for my new book, All in: How Our Work-First Culture Fails Dads, Families, and Businesses -- And How We Can Fix It Together. “If the state contributed funds to parental leave costs, that would certainly be good for our bottom line, and more importantly, it would send a key message about investing in family and child development.”
Across the country, some businesses large and small are starting to embrace paid family leave programs. And they’re finding that the dire warnings that such programs will “kill jobs” are misguided. Instead, these programs, done right, can boost the bottom line and the overall economy.
In California, the vast majority of businesses say that their state's paid family leave program has had either a positive effect or no effect on productivity and profits. Small businesses there are even less likely than larger companies to report any problems. And in New Jersey, which has a similar program, and where 18 businesses were surveyed, six said that the program has had a neutral effect; the other 12 said it’s been beneficial.
These programs, whether offered by businesses or the government, do just what Klein said: They help companies draw and retain employees, avoiding the hefty costs of recruiting and training new workers. They also make existing employees happier which, as Entrepreneur has reported, makes for more productive workers.
A perfect example is Jeff Porzio, who used to work at a major advertising agency that pressured men not to take the two weeks of paternity leave they were technically allowed. He left the agency and joined a smaller company that respects his role as a dad. “I’m very lucky, and I reward the company with my loyalty,” he says.
Businesses with better policies also flourish in another way: by reaping the benefits of gender equality. As I explain in my book, our laws, policies and stigmas still push women to stay at home and men to stay at work. Consider that only 4.6 percent of CEOs in the S&P 500 are women; It’s the kind of sexism I personally fought against at Time Warner Inc. and won.
Paid family leave programs for both men and women allow families to decide what’s best for them. And for businesses, it’s basic logic. Sometimes, the best person for a job is a woman. Why would we want to push women to stay home and men to stay at work?
The World Economic Forum traces what it characterizes as a relationship between gender equality and a strong economy, explaining: “Countries and companies can be competitive only if they develop, attract and retain the best talent, both male and female.”
Paid leave is also about keeping up with the times, says Brad Harrington, executive director of Boston College's Center for Work and Family. Today’s young parents think, “‘It’s not a question of whether I will be involved; it’s a question of how do we divide the responsibility?’” Harrington says. “This is something organizations have to talk about, because that’s how the country works.”
Ready to tackle this problem head-on in your business? Here are three initial steps to take:
1. Analyze your policies.
Are you offering both men and women paid time off after the birth of a child? Look at the competition. See what other businesses around your size and in your field are offering.
2. Listen to your employees.
Make clear that you take their family needs seriously and want to build programs that allow for greater work-life integration. Contact groups that can help you. In my book, I introduce numerous resources, including Cynthia Calvert, who runs Workforce 21C, and Joan Williams, director of the Center for WorkLife Law.
3. Join the push for public policies.
As business leaders speak out, they send a critical message to lawmakers: It’s time for paid family leave, nationwide.