What It Takes: Parental Support Trends at the Best Companies | Working Mother

What It Takes: Parental Support Trends at the Best Companies

When it comes to supporting new parents at work, the first (often missed) step is paid leave. Here’s how this essential benefit is evolving at America’s choice employers.

We've seen lots of change over the 30-year history of the Working Mother Best Companies initiative.


In 1986, women were already the fastest growing segment in the American workforce—more than 60 percent of moms with a child under 18 were employed, and some companies were just starting to get serious about expanding their benefits for parents.

This was the year Working Mother introduced the Best Companies initiative not only to highlight employers treating mom employees well—through fair compensation, advancement opportunities and family-friendly benefits—but to encourage them to compete to do better.

That first year, we only chose 30 winners, including IBM and Johnson & Johnson, both of which have gone on to earn spots on the list every single year. At the time, paid parental leave was a fairly new idea and helping workers pay for the costs of adoption or fertility treatments were policies that had yet to hit the mainstream.

Much has changed since then. Women are no longer a novelty in the office, and some U.S. companies are competing to attract professional talent by offering months—and in a few cases, a full year—of fully paid leave to new parent employees. Three decades in to our efforts to move the needle on work life policies for working moms, here’s how the landscape is changing when it comes to parental support benefits at choice employers.

This first in a series of special Working Mother 100 Best Companies 30th Anniversary National Trends Quarterly Reports is sponsored by Novartis Pharmaceuticals Corp.

Maternity Leave

When the Best Companies launched, only five of 30 winners offered fully paid maternity leave, ranging from one week to eight weeks. Now all 100 Best Companies offer fully paid maternity leave to full-time employees. By contrast, only 5 percent of the nation’s employers do, according to the 2014 National Study of Employers by the Families and Work Institute.

Best vs. Rest: Fully Paid Maternity Leave


Today the average length of fully paid maternity leave offered by the Best Companies is eight weeks, while the average length of partially paid leave has grown to six weeks.

Year Over Year: Paid Maternity Leave Offered


Beyond the number of weeks offered, companies have become more flexible in how they offer paid leave, with many allowing new mothers to take intermittent time off during the first year of a baby’s life. For instance, Shuchi Bhalla, a senior systems analyst at Qualcomm, a San Diego-based wireless technology company, took 12 weeks right after the birth of her son. Then, a few months later, Shuchi took an additional five weeks off to visit family in India and to help him adjust to his new nanny. Says Shuchi: “I appreciated having the flexibility to split my leave to do this.”

Paternity Leave

Possibly the biggest change in three decades has been a growing respect for the working dad’s role in parenting when a new baby arrives. In 1986, not one Best Company offered paid paternity leave; now 90 percent do, at three weeks on average. (Nationwide, only 17 percent of companies follow suit, according to the 2015 benefits survey of Society for Human Resource Management members.)

Best vs. Rest: Paid Paternity Leave


Year Over Year: Paid Paternity Leave Offered


Since Johnson & Johnson began offering eight weeks of paid leave to all parents, the company has found that half of those taking parental leave are men, according to Lisa Blair Davis, vice president of global benefits for the New Brunswick, NJ-based consumer products company. (For 20 years, the company also has allowed new parents to take up to a year of unpaid leave as well.) At the 100 Best Companies that offer them paid leave, new dads take an average of two weeks.

Davis notes that recent decades have seen growth in the numbers of stepfamilies and same-sex couples.

Year Over Year: Paid Paternity Leave Taken


“There isn’t as much of a traditional family as there was 30 years ago,” she says. “We think all parents have a role to play in taking care of their children.”

Adoption Benefits

In 1986, no Best Company reported offering adoption benefits. Today, 93 percent offer paid adoption leave as compared to a paltry 17 percent nationwide. On average, employees at the Best Companies take five weeks—typically the maximum offered. (Nationwide data come from the 2015 benefits survey of Society for Human Resource Management members.)

Best vs. Rest: Paid Adoption Leave


Year Over Year: Paid Adoption Leave Offered


Todd Siesky, a senior director at Roche Diagnostics, an Indianapolis-based biotechnology company, recalls that when his adoption initially fell through, his manager cancelled his meetings and paid for a long weekend getaway for him and his wife to recover. “Weeks later when we learned that our disappointment had turned into an approved adoption of twin infant girls, my manager allowed me the time away I needed to bond with our babies as a new dad,” Siesky recalls.

Johnson & Johnson and Armonk, NY-based technology giant IBM each reimburse up to $5,000 of adoption expenses. “Part of our overarching message is that we’re very committed to advancing our workplace culture,” J&J’s Davis says. “We’re continually looking at the standards within our industry and outside and where do we want to shape that.”

Other Parental Benefits

Of course, paid leave is just the beginning of the support parents need when combining a fulfilling career with caring for a child. In additional to leave, the Best Companies also offer lactation support, fertility treatment reimbursement, child care resources and more. Indeed, while surveys find employers nationwide have cut back on these types of offerings, the Best Companies remain committed to expanding them. (Nationwide data come from the 2015 benefits survey of Society for Human Resource Management members.)

Best vs. Rest: Programs for Parents


For example, IBM covers egg retrieval and freezing in the event of a medical condition that may impact fertility, as well as $5,000 toward surrogacy services. For parents of children with special needs, IBM reimburses up to $50,000 for certain treatments or therapies not covered by insurance. The tech company also helps employees or their family members repay college loans.

“Supporting working parents is part of our cultural fabric,” explains Lindsay-Rae McIntyre, vice president for diversity at IBM, which first created a leave of absence policy in 1956 and in the early 1980s, launched a national network for child care providers. Today, one of IBM’s newest benefits is a concierge breast milk program that allows traveling working moms to order cooling supplies, packaging materials and labels to a hotel room or conference center—and ship the milk home overnight—all at IBM’s expense.

The goal of this program and all IBM family-friendly policies is to stay ahead of employee’s needs, says McIntyre. “There’s no single solution and we have to be as varied in our offerings as our employees.”

Click here for the Executive Summary of data from the 2015 100 Best Companies.

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