Gates Foundation cuts 52-week paid parental leave program
- The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation has slashed its 52-week paid parental leave to half its size. The Seattle-based organization has added, however, a $20,000 taxable stipend to help with childcare costs and other family needs.
- Steven Rice, the foundation's chief human resources officer, said in a LinkedIn post that the philanthropic enterprise made the change because, after a review of the three-year-old program, 52 weeks of leave was discovered to be more disruptive than anticipated. To temporarily replace those out on leave, the foundation hired some backfills, Rice said, but a large percentage of the replacements were sourced internally. And once a position was filled, the organization sometimes had to "backfill the backfill." In one instance, he explained, 50% a team either on leave or staffed by those in backfill positions, "making the regular work of the foundation far more difficult than expected." In addition, managers said common challenges — such as identifying and onboarding backfill talent, transferring a sufficient amount of knowledge and re-onboarding returning employees — were magnified by the one-year leave.
- The new policy, which will take effect later this year, offers six months of paid leave and, upon a parent's return to work, a $20,000 taxable stipend to help with childcare costs and other family needs.
Most employers are focused on beefing up their parental leave offerings, but the ramifications of a year-long leave seem to have outweighed the benefits, at least for this organization. And a six-month leave may still have the desired benefits; Rice noted that a six-month policy has been shown to deliver on important outcomes such as gender equality and the health and development of children. Experts who have studied the connection between the length of leave and ideal outcomes recommend such a standard.
Longer maternity leaves can negatively impact the perception of working mothers, research has shown. Managers tend to believe that women who take longer maternity leaves will be less committed to their jobs and have little promise for leadership roles, according to a study published in the Journal of Applied Psychology. When managers participating in the experiment received applications showing a woman had taken a maternity leave of 12 months, as opposed to applications indicating a one-month leave, the applicant with the longer leave time was viewed as less desirable by both male and female study participants. The bias was eliminated, however, when managers received applications accompanied by a letter of recommendation that affirmed the applicant's dedication to the job.
This outcome of long-term parental leave may be better addressed in an unconscious bias training rather than a change in policy, however. Managers, especially, may need training to eradicate bias against myriad populations.
Family-friendly policies such as lengthy parental leave could be a boon for companies trying to hire talent in a time when job openings outnumber job applicants. In fact, any policy that supports caretakers may boost an organization's numbers in terms of recruitment, retention and engagement. Three in four employees said they have some type of caregiving responsibility, according to research from Harvard Business School. With such widespread need, employers can position themselves to showcase generous policies that make life easier for caretakers of all stripes.