This week, President Trump and Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau met at the White House with female business leaders from Accenture, General Electric, TransAlta Corp, General Motors and others to discuss the challenges facing women in the workplace.  At the event, the two world leaders announced they will launching a joint task force to “help to keep women in the workforce and to address the unique barriers faced by female entrepreneurs.”

While it is unclear what changes may come in U.S. policy, the barriers are real.  Data shows women are the primary source of income in 40% of American households, and households with children under the age of 18.  Yet, access to and the existence of family-friendly policies that enable having a sustainable work life balance tell a different story:

  • None: The U.S. has no federal paid family leave policy in place
  • 14%: The number of American workers with access to employer-sponsored paid family leave
  • 3X: The rate at which full-time workers have access to coverage vs. part-time workers
  • 60%: How many private sector workers in the U.S. get paid time off for bereavement per the Bureau of Labor Statistics
  • 12: The number of week of unpaid leave The Family Medical Leave Act provides under certain conditions, but doesn’t cover bereavement

Despite these daunting statistics, this has not stopped companies from responding to calls to bridge the gap.   Leading the charge are companies like Deloitte LLP and IKEA which provide up to 16 fully paid weeks of parental leave.  Also, IKEA’s policy reflects the diversity of its workforce by offering up to 4 months of paid parental leave to part-time and full-time employees who have at least one year of experience at the company.

And just last week Facebook announced employees will be eligible for up to 20 days of bereavement leave in the event of a family member’s death, six weeks of paid leave to care for an ill relative and three days of paid family sick time to help out with a short-term illness.

The good news is that there is an increasingly solid fact-base helping to fuel the business case demonstrating the value employers receive when enacting family-friendly policies.

  • Strengthens Employee Retention: The Boston Consulting Group (BCG) released a report this week that cited women who take paid leave are 93% more likely to be in the workforce 9 to 12 months after a child’s birth than women who take no leave.  An example cited was Google who reported a 50% rate of reduction in female turnover after it increased its paid maternity leave program from 12 to 18 weeks, the rate of female turnover after maternity leave was reduced by 50%.
  • Helps Attract Talent: Competing for talent continues to be a driver behind adopting these policies.  A recent study by Fractl reported 88% of respondents said “they’d give some or heavy consideration to a job offering flexible hours, while 80% would give consideration to a job that lets them work from home.”
  • Improves engagement: For organizations with a stated commitment to diversity and inclusion, offering family-friendly benefits sends a strong message to the workforce that work/life balance matters to the employer – and it also produces positive results.  According to BCG, a 2016 EY study found “that more than 80% of companies that offer paid family leave reported a positive impact on employee morale, and more than 70% reported an increase in employee productivity.”

I am a strong believer in leveraging best practices when it comes to diversity and inclusion and BCG’s study provides important lessons employers can learn from as they decide what’s best for workforce:

  • Have the policy reflect the company’s values: Remember that the definition of family and caregiving has evolved so implementing policies that are more inclusive (available to both men and women, full and part time workers) are more likely to meet the needs of your workforce.
  • Weeks off may not be the only value driver: While paid family leave is important, having the flexibility to spread it out may help ease the burden for some families.
  • Create systems of support: Look at ways to ease the transition (departure and return to work) for the employee while understanding how to minimize the burden on those filling in during the leave.

A final note:  One surprise finding from BCG’s study was that implementing these policies appears to have had no negative impact on their bottom line.  They reported that in an EY study, “92% of companies with a paid family leave policy reported that it had a positive effect or no effect on profitability. At the same time, the retention benefits of paid family leave can offset its costs.”