We know that almost a quarter of American women who give birth return to work after just two weeks off. There are a host of reasons why this reality desperately needs to be changed—beginning with the fact that the act of childbirth is a major physical and emotional undertaking, and should be treated as such with adequate time to recover. But fathers, adoptive parents, and caretakers of other immediate family members are in dire need of such paid family leave policies as well—and not just to care for babies. With the baby boomer generation hitting retirement age, four million Americans are turning 65 each year, and seven in ten of them will require some long-term care and support. Oftentimes, this care and support is provided by their offspring, a generation that is simultaneously dealing with limited workplace leave policies to take care of their own children.
On September 8, professional services giant Deloitte tapped into these needs and formally announced their new family leave program, which grants sixteen weeks of fully paid leave to its employees for all kinds of caregiving. That is to say, the leave is not just for new mothers and fathers, but also for employees who need to care for an aging parent, sick child, spouse, or sibling. It also grants mothers who give birth to a child the eligibility for up to six months of paid time off, when factoring in short-term disability for childbirth.
Deloitte’s decision came after a survey of its 78,000 workers in which 88 percent of respondents said they would value a broader paid leave policy that included family care beyond parental leave.
Previously, the firm offered eight weeks paid parental leave for primary caregivers and three weeks paid leave for secondary caregivers. Otherwise, Deloitte workers seeking time off for caregiving had to use vacation days, leaves of absence, and sabbaticals to cover the rest—but not all of this time, nor the additional four of twelve weeks of maternity leave mandated by the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA), was paid.
Deloitte CEO Cathy Engelbert said in a statement on the policy:
“By adding support for eldercare, spousal care, and children beyond the birth stage, Deloitte’s family leave program provides our people with the time they need to focus on their families in important times of need. Leaders often discuss how they can become more innovative, and one of the things that makes a big difference is to focus beyond business products and services and think about their people and the fabric of organizational culture.”
Competitive Industries, Competing for Talent
One might ask what has sparked interest in said support for all caregivers. The program, which Deloitte is referring to as “the first of its kind for professional services,” is the latest benefits move among similar companies that constantly compete for the top talent in the industry.
Indeed, in April, after Ernst & Young (EY) announced its new family leave policy as the leading policy of its kind in the professional services agency, Fortune’s Kristen Bellstrom reported that the gauntlet had been thrown. Bellstrom wrote, “For now, it appears that EY holds the professional services paid-leave belt. But for how long?”
The same query can be repeated following Deloitte’s Thursday announcement. Professional services firms of this kind—particularly the accounting sector, as seen with companies like EY—have long been considered ahead of the curve when it comes to benefits, largely because of their pioneering workplace flexibility. (Though it is worth pointing out that while such flexibility is largely made available to professional services employees, many report that their intense workplace cultures make them feel as though they cannot utilize such benefits.)
Technology giants including Netflix, Google, and Facebook have also been doing their part to make waves in the arena of family leave. The graph below was compiled by Century Foundation fellow Julie Kashen in her report, “Tech Companies Are Leading the Way on Paid Family Leave.”
However, it is imperative to take note of the demographics of the employees working at these competitive firms and tech companies: these are some of the highest earners in the country. Deloitte is the richest of the Big Four firms, and research has shown it is well-paid people who are the most likely to receive paid leave benefits.
The United States is making progress on local and state family leave policies, but it still has a long way to go before it loses its title as the only advanced nation without a federally mandated paid maternity leave policy in place.
Make no mistake, Deloitte’s policy shift is a victory. And the United States is making progress on local and state family leave policies, but it still has a long way to go before it loses its title as the only advanced nation without a federally mandated paid maternity leave policy in place. So, there is both the space and the need for private sector leadership on creating such change.
Now let’s hope the competitive momentum behind Deloitte’s announcement picks up and trickles into other industries.