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Why Industry Leaders are Instituting Progressive Parental Leave Policies

In addition to generous leave policies, top companies also offer benefits to support infertility treatment and higher education subsidies
 
 

sponsored by Bank of America

When Miles Dipo’s parents got the news their unborn son had a heart tumor that would most likely require surgery immediately after birth, they feared the worst. Though Miles’ doctors were optimistic about his long-term prognosis, his parents, Morgan and Jenny, anticipated spending many nerve-wracking weeks in the neonatal intensive-care unit.

Balancing care for Miles, the demands of work and the daily routine of Kai (Miles’ two-year-old brother) posed a seemingly insurmountable challenge.

Even under the best of circumstances, the work-life balance is a perpetual struggle for professionals, especially those with children. Parental leave policies feel insufficient to support their families when they welcome a new child into their lives, and particularly for new fathers, leave is often hard to come by.

Two to seven weeks of paid leave is the standard across most large companies, but even that window of time can be tainted by inflexibility and often unspoken expectations that employees stay connected by checking email, taking calls or meeting with clients, or simply not take the full leave. And when things don’t go smoothly, many men are forced to take unpaid leave to extend their availability to their families. In single-income families like the Dipos, these are often untenable solutions.

But in the face of what he calls an “uncertain diagnosis for Miles,” Morgan and his family got some good news. Morgan, who is a vice president of Global Commercial Banking at Bank of America Merrill Lynch, is afforded 16 weeks of paid parental leave. This new policy, instituted in April 2016, is an increase over the company’s already industry-leading 12 weeks the bank offered both men and women welcoming a new child into their families, either through birth or adoption.

This new policy gives parents even more flexibility to make arrangements and adjustments as parents expand their families. To further extend the benefit, parents may take the leave anytime during the first year of the new child’s arrival.

According to Sheri Bronstein, Bank of America’s global human resources executive, the parental leave policy is part of a broader strategy to build a network of support for the bank’s employees. “These additional benefits reflect our ongoing commitment to ensuring our policies contribute to the culture we seek that embraces and accommodates the diverse lives of our employees. That commitment is core to one of our operating principles: To be a great place to work.”

Setting a new standard

Bank of America’s extension of its leave policy is a major shift in the industry, where the standard practice remains rooted in an outdated view of how families manage responsibilities in the home. Many companies provide extended leave to a “primary parent,” usually the mother. This entitles the other parent to less paid leave and presents a grim calculus for many families: extend the “non-primary parent’s” leave on an unpaid basis, or compromise time with family at perhaps the most critical moment.

The U.S. does not mandate paid family leave at the federal level, the only developed country in the world that does not. Four states have paid leave policies, but Washington is not among them. A small number of cities have municipal policies, but Seattle does not. In the end, it is up to individual employers to determine how they will accommodate parental leave for their employees.

Several technology companies are leading the charge to rewrite policies in this area. In a 2015 ranking of the best places to work for new fathers, Fast Company named eight technology firms in the top ten, including the three companies on the medal podium: Netflix, Spotify and Facebook. In addition to generous parental leave policies, top companies also offered benefits to support infertility treatment and higher education subsides. 

Bank of America was the only financial institution on the list, coming in at number 5. In addition to the 16 weeks parental leave policy, the bank also provides employees up to $8,000 per child for expenses related to adoption, a child care reimbursement of $240 per month per child and subsidies for emergency backup care for dependents, and 24/7 access to confidential counseling and resources to assist with parenting issues, school information, legal services and financial planning.

Balancing difficult decisions

When his first son was born, Morgan worked for a different company with a less generous leave policy. He was able to take just two weeks off, which he says seemed acceptable at the time, since they didn’t expect complications with Kai’s birth or aftercare. But had he been at the same company when Miles was born, Morgan and Jenny would have had to face the possibility of dipping into vacation time, sick leave, or taking unpaid leave, which could have left them tapping into savings to cover the income gaps.

Miles was born on May 16 at 6:30 am, measuring 19 inches and 6 pounds, 4 ounces. To the joy of his parents and extended family, his outlook is considerably rosier than originally expected. Miles has been able to avoid surgery so far and his caregivers have placed him on medication that is expected to reduce the size of the tumor on his heart with the long-term objective of making it physiologically insignificant.

Banking is a high-touch, relationship-driven business, and amidst all the activity, Morgan can’t help but keep an eye on his phone in case anyone on his team needs him while he’s on leave. But his phone hasn’t rung. His team respects his time away, and he knows his clients are receiving top-notch service and support in his absence.

“When the expanded policy was announced, my managers—who were aware of Miles’ condition—called me to personally share the news and encourage me to take full advantage of the benefit,” Morgan says. “Our company has tremendous resources, and there’s a trust in my Bank of America Merrill Lynch team to continue to deliver unparalleled service to my customers while I am out, and that I can pick up where I left off when I come back. There’s genuine support for this and an expectation from all levels of management that parental leave matters. Even my male supervisors and colleagues, who raised families in an era where fathers didn’t get this leave, insist I unplug.”

The parental leave policy is part of a larger cultural focus at the bank. Morgan sees it play out in real time: “The bank wants the communities in which it operates to do well. They provide significant resources so that employees can manage our lives more conveniently and be engaged contributors to the community. We’re sending a message for the rest of corporate America: this is how you create a more engaged workforce. This is how we better serve our customers and do right by our shareholders. Because at the core, this is how we will grow together, responsibly.”

Stacey MoninskiAt Bank of America we’re helping making peoples’ financial lives better through the power of every connection we make with our employees, our customers and the greater Seattle community. Shared success is an important part of how our company is growing responsibly. That’s why we are proud to be a signature sponsor of this year’s Seattle Business Magazine Community Impact Awards to celebrate the very best companies and nonprofit organizations that are committed to making our community a better place to live, work and thrive. And to celebrate our support of the community, this piece is the first in a series we are hosting to showcase stories about our employees, customers and community partners.