Amazon Can't Defend Its Lack of Paternity Leave

Father kissing his newborn
Father kissing his newborn

In a big way, Amazon has shown itself to be what it never wants to be: stuck in the past.

An explosive New York Times piece on the company's corporate culture noted that Amazon has no paid paternity leave -- even as other tech giants have entered the modern era by expanding their offerings.

The ways in which businesses benefit from offering paternity leave are so clear and proven that corporate leadership has to dig its collective head way, way down in the sand to miss it. Paternity leave attracts and retains top-notch employees. It increases worker satisfaction, morale, and productivity. It helps conquer the sexist structure that pushes women to stay home and men to stay at work, allowing businesses a better shot at keeping their best employees at work regardless of gender.

I explain all of this in my new book All In: How Our Work-First Culture Fails Dads, Families and Businesses -- And How We Can Fix It Together -- which, by the way, Amazon itself may have noticed.

In 2015, it's indefensible for a massive corporation to offer zero paid paternity leave. Still, company spokesman Jay Carney (yes, the former White House spokesman) gave it a shot. "But 83 percent of American companies don't offer paid paternity leave," he argued on CNN, complaining that the Times article "left that fact out."

There's a lot wrong with this argument.

First, the overwhelming majority of American businesses are tiny and not in any way comparable to Amazon. Carney himself pointed out Amazon's size in the same interview, arguing that the company would not have 150,000 employees "if people didn't want to work at Amazon."

Carney also noted that certain high-skilled employees have lots of choices about where to work. But he failed to mention that a huge portion of Amazon's workforce doesn't meet that criteria. People work because they need jobs and, in many cases, support their families. Amazon's success has had a profound impact on American retail -- and on what jobs are available.

The fact that most U.S. companies offer no paid paternity leave is not a point in Amazon's favor. It's a depressing reality hurting families, businesses, and the entire economy.

Sometimes businesses need a big mirror held up to them so they can see what needs to be fixed. For Amazon, now is that moment. And there's reason for hope. Carney said the company is always re-evaluating its policies. And in the CNN interview, he said the fact that so many businesses offer no paternity leave "doesn't mean that's ultimately the right policy."

The question: Is Amazon willing to admit it was wrong?

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