A New Start for Mark Zuckerberg and More Work Ahead to Support Working Parents

Last week, as Mark Zuckerberg was preparing for his own paternity leave, he announced that all Facebook employees-men and women, heterosexual and same sex couples-would be entitled to four months paid parental leave.

It's amazing to think about how much has happened just over the these past nine months to advance corporate policies for working parents. Tech companies like Netflix, Adobe, Microsoft, and Amazon and now Facebook have greatly expanded their policies for paid leave, most notably offering leave at full salary. The evidence we have to date shows that expanded paid leave: improves parent and infant health, improves gender equity, increases family economic stability, and makes businesses more competitive.

No doubt expanding leave policies will dramatically improve the reality for many American parents, but thoughtful implementation is critical to having the impact parents need and companies are aiming for. After coaching hundreds of clients in companies where policies and culture don't align, I know where practices fall short of policy intentions. For significant long-term impact on recruitment, retention and productivity of working parents, companies need to be more proactive in their approach. As one client at a company that offered months of paid leave asked, "If policies are all we need, why am I still fighting so hard for support?"

Here are three points companies should consider to see an increased return on this investment in working parents:

  • Leave Doesn't Just Impact Parents: How many times have you heard colleagues complain about having to cover for a parent on leave? Typically leave programs focus exclusively on the individual and their family. The most progressive companies may offer individual coaching and other support services to the parent and sometimes their spouse or partner as well. But no one else. While this benefit will help individuals manage the transition at home, it often falls short at work. Colleagues and managers will be impacted by this individual's leave too, often with little support for the increased workload. Without clear and transparent communications about how the work will be managed before, during and following leave, resentment is almost inevitable. This results in a disconnect between policy and practice. To avoid this, managers should involve colleagues in an open process of planning and communicating with the individual on leave and frame it as a development opportunity for those providing the work coverage.
  • Track & Measure Carefully: Can you make the business case for paid leave? More and more businesses recognize that paid leave is important, but few know why and how it can impact retention and bottom line. The right data can provide critical information--about who tends to use family leave benefits and how much, whether employees come back after taking leave, and what the organize can lose if they don't. Unfortunately, most organizations either do not collect the right information or do not know what to do with the data once they have it. This is a missed opportunity.
  • The Simplest Resources Can Empower: When companies make a big policy change like offering extensive paid leave, many of the smaller details may seem like afterthoughts. Too often employees have no idea what's available to them or how to ask for help. Communicate clearly -- and often -- about benefit terms and expectations to help employees plan. Let parents know where they can find backup support, don't bury it in a lengthy packet they have no time to read. Ensure that lactation rooms are phone and wifi enabled so new parents aren't spending hours making up work time they missed while pumping. Take the time to ensure that parents have all the tools they need to return to work with confidence and support.

A few months ago at the Clinton Global Initiative, a group of corporate leaders announced the formation of the Working Parents Support Coalition where companies like Barclays, Danone, Nestle, KKR, and EY (formerly Ernst and Young) publicly committed to improving their support for working parents. This a great step forward. We need more companies to join this effort and embrace comprehensive change. We need research-driven coaching for new parents--and their managers. We need transparency so employees know what benefits are available to them. We need to train managers to put family-friendly policies in place happily without compromising results. We need a comprehensive, nationwide data collection effort across a large swath of organizations so we can begin to track what's working and what isn't. We need to provide parents with support to manage work and home. Without good practices to back up good policy, we risk wasting the momentum we've gained in recent months. That would be a missed opportunity for our families and for our economy.

In his heartfelt letter to his newborn daughter, Zuckerberg outlines two hopes for her generation: advancing human potential and promoting equality. Providing support for working parents is one small but essential way to ensure she and her peers can further those ideals.