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What Does Paternity Leave Have to Do with a Company's Success?

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By Sanola Daley and Jimena Serrano

Sanola Daley is an investment management officer for non-financial products and services at the Inter-American Investment Corporation (IIC). She develops products and programs to support IIC's clients and to facilitate the integration of women's economic empowerment and gender equity into the private sector's strategy and operations.

Companies in Latin America cannot find the human talent they're looking for. An international survey of 41,000 companies found that more than 60% of employers in countries like Brazil and Peru have problems filling vacancies. In Costa Rica, more than 45% of the companies surveyed are dealing with this--they simply cannot find the right people.

These recruitment challenges mean that retaining employees has become a priority for the private sector, even more so in the hotel industry, where schedules are tough and workdays are long.

In order for hotels to operate effectively, they need staff members specializing in technical areas, in management, and in sales. But such professionals can be difficult to identify and attract in a country like Costa Rica, and keeping them is extremely important for a company's productivity and financial success.

Marriott Costa Rica has taken an important step in meeting this challenge, having recently obtained a gender equality certification, EDGE, that served as a starting point for introducing new staff policies. The EDGE (Economic Dividends for Gender Equality) methodology uses a business-driven approach to assess a company's talent pool, policies and corporate culture, helping create a more balanced workforce through equal pay for equivalent work, recruitment and flexible working. As a result of the certification process, Marriott Costa Rica became one of the first private businesses in the country to offer paid paternity leave.

Although government employees in Costa Rica get up to five days of paid paternity leave, private-sector workers do not, and whether or not paternity leave is provided is up to each individual company.

Why did Marriott Costa Rica decide to support new fathers?

According to Xenia Parra, Marriott Costa Rica's human resources manager, paternity leave and other similar measures can be very beneficial for companies. Marriott analyzed the associated costs and concluded that offering five days of paid leave would significantly increase the loyalty of its male employees.

"When we looked at the possibility of offering paternity leave, we realized that the economic impact for Marriott was quite low," she said.

The hotel chain offers three days of paid leave for fathers with newborns, as well as two days of leave they can take during the two months following the birth. Before this policy was adopted, fathers could request unpaid leave. According to Parra, "the problem with that was the employee didn't get paid right when he most needed the money."


Work-life balance

The benefit of these policies for Marriott Costa Rica was that they offered a way to promote a balance between work life and personal life. It is also one of the measures that is most effective at increasing gender equality in the workplace, since it enables fathers to get involved with family responsibilities from the very start. Mothers, on the other hand, enjoy the advantage of more experience and opportunities for promotion thanks to their quicker return to work.

"Thanks to this leave, Marriott is earning the loyalty and commitment of its staff," said Luis Bolaños, Marriott Costa Rica's procurement director and the first employee to use the leave after the birth of his twins. For Bolaños, sharing time with his children from the start has a special value. "Marriott recognizes that for its employees, family is the most important thing."

Along with introducing paternity leave, Marriott Costa Rica is providing training to its managers and employees on gender bias. The hotel company has become aware of the medium- and long-term benefits of these measures and just completed the second of three levels for the EDGE certification.

Xenia Parra, the human resources manager, is convinced that Marriott is on its way to continue being successful in Costa Rica. "In addition to creating an equitable work environment, equal opportunities for men and women contributes to improving companies' financial results. We will continue to pursue these efforts throughout our operations."

Jimena Serrano

Jimena Serrano is a gender equality consultant for the Inter-American Investment Corporation (IIC). She works with investment officers to maximize opportunities for women across the IIC's operations with the private sector. She has focused primarily on building the "business case" for integrating women into sectors such as agriculture and energy, as well as including more women in non-traditional sectors of the economy.

From the Multilateral Investment Fund Trends blog