Parental leave seems to be an emerging trend that a few corporate bigwigs have recently offered to their workers. But a new study suggests widespread adoption of the benefit is just a bunch of hype so far.
Netflix, Amazon, Microsoft, Johnson & Johnson, Etsy and Ernst & Young are some firms that hyped up their parental leave programs. This created buzz and hope that other companies would soon follow their lead, but a recent study shows the opposite.
The National Study of Employers (PDF) by the Families and Work Institute (FWI) surveyed 920 for-profit and nonprofit employers in the U.S. with 50 or more workers. The survey took place from Sept. 22, 2015 to Feb. 2, 2016 and found that since 2012 there were no major changes in average parental and caregiving leave from employers.
“Whether high-profile companies offering paid leave are out of step with the majority of employers or leading the way remains to be seen,” says Ellen Galinsky, president and co-founder of FWI and the study’s author.
In the last 11 years leading up to 2012, the number of companies providing some type of replacement pay for women on maternity leave jumped 12 percentage points, from 46% to 58%, according to Galinsky, who also is a senior research advisor at Society For Human Resource Management (SHRM). But that percentage had remained flat, at 58%, from 2012 to 2016.
And companies that do offer replacement pay also have become less generous. Where 17% of those employers offered full pay during leave in 2005, only 10% offered the same last year. And for all firms with 50 or more workers, that number drops to 6%.
Etsy’s decision to give six months of parental leave, while Netflix said in 2015 that its workers would be able to take off the first year when a child is born, were seen as potential game changers, reports TheDailyHerald. These moves were enough to grab headlines, but not push other companies to take bold action.
The fewer number of firms offering full-pay for women on leave is likely due to a slight increase in companies that provide short-term disability leave, Galinsky said. But increased competition to attract and keep talent may be the incentive for more companies to up their parental leave benefits, she noted.
"The companies that are one-upping each other by offering more and more wonderful leaves are doing so for the same reason all companies do so: for the retention of their talent,” Galinsky said. So ”if you've got 78% of employers saying they're having difficulty attracting the right employees," that could encourage more changes. “We just haven't seen it yet,” she said.
Women employees’ reluctance to use leave even in cases where some state laws now require paid leave also may be a factor in keeping the numbers low. Jay Zagorsky, a research scientist at the Center for Human Resource Research, learned that the number of women taking maternity leave in the US has not changed in the past 20 years.
Zagorsky surveyed U.S. Census Bureau population data and found that 47.5% of women were paid in 2015 when on maternity leave. That percentage has been going up, but only by 0.26% every year. This may mean it will be another 10 years before 50% of women get paid maternity leave. "We are a much richer country since the 1990s," Zagorsky said. "Looking at the maternity data, it does not suggest that any of the increased wealth has flown toward new working mothers.”