In the past few years, a lot of companies have been revamping their parental leave policy, such as LinkedIn, Amazon, and Netflix, to name a few. Now Etsy has joined the mix. Starting April 1, the Brooklyn-based company will start offering all parents, regardless of gender, 26 weeks off after the birth of a child via birth or adoption.
This is significant for a variety of reasons, and not just because of the ample time off. The fact that it’s gender neutral is incredible, especially at a company of about 800 people. Recognizing that both parents need time off isn’t the norm (though it should be). Previously, Etsy gave only “primary” caretakers 12 paid weeks off, and “secondary” parents five paid weeks–which is still better than most, but it’s not good enough. And that’s been the running theme with many companies in regards to parental leave: It’s just not going to cut it forever.
Juliet Gorman, Etsy’s director of culture and engagement, described how the old policy was outdated in an age where many parents are raising kids in dual-income households with a more equal footing. She stated in The Huffington Post:
“It was playing out in a gendered way. Male employees read the policy and thought, ‘I must only be eligible for secondary.’ Etsy, regardless of age, is a very kind of plugged-in, ear-to-the ground, socially progressive company.”
Meanwhile, many fathers often don’t take the full time allowed them, despite these positive changes–because of the stigma attached. Josh Levs, author of “All In,” a book that looks at how fathers are treated in the workplace, describes this phenomenon:
“In many places the idea of a man taking time off at all is stigmatized. For a man to say he’s a primary caregiver, it’s downright impossible.”
When Levs became a father a few years ago, he was currently working at CNN. At the time, he wanted to use the 10 weeks of parental leave his parent company Time Warner offered, however, he was told he wasn’t eligible. Apparently, men could not get the full 10 weeks if they adopted a child with their partner or used a surrogate. Otherwise, new dads could only get two paid weeks. Levs ended up filing a complaint against the company, and eventually, Time Warner changed its rules.
It doesn’t take a genius to realize that having policies based on gender only reinforces disparages and inequalities between men and women, both at home and at work. For women, it automatically puts them at a disadvantage at work, as colleagues and supervisors often consciously or subconsciously assume motherhood will take precedence in a way where their jobs simply stop being a priority. One study even found that women’s salaries decrease with every new baby they have.
The opposite happens to men who become fathers, however. Men don’t see salary decreases because of fatherhood, and if anything, aren’t expected to really “coparent.” One study, however, found that men are less likely to have partners who suffer from depression if they take leave.
It’s also important to note, as The Huffington Post points out, that it is discriminatory to give men and women different amounts of time off after the arrival of a child, according to Washington-based civil rights lawyer Peter Romer-Friedman:
“Policies that give disproportionate amounts of parental leave are vulnerable to legal attack under sex discrimination laws.”
Of course, the “primary” caretaker language is also incredibly problematic for LGBTQ couples, since the role of a “primary” caretaker is an arbitrary term for many in the community–and of course, it becomes more complicated if neither partner biologically gave birth to the child.
All in all, Etsy is definitely making the moves in the right direction, and I can only hope other companies follow suit.