Why We’re Giving Equal Time Off to All Parents

Posted 3 months ago by Kelsey Traher

The time you get to spend with your child after its arrival into your world is, for many parents, some of the most memorable and important weeks and months of their lives. Mark Zuckerberg said after his daughter was born, “when working parents take time to be with their newborns, it’s good for the entire family.” Zuckerberg took two months off to spend time with his first daughter, writing “I’m pretty sure the office will still be standing when I get back.”

Parenthood is a new phase of life for both adults involved, yet the standard time off work allowed for each parent is completely imbalanced. Instead of an equal partnership, vastly different amounts of time off is based on the idea of a primary and secondary care giver split along traditional gender lines. This outdated approach leaves families with no real choice on how to split the childcare labour between them, disadvantaging both parents and particularly women.

“Parenthood is a new phase of life for both adults involved, yet the standard time off work allowed for each parent is completely imbalanced.”

Lots of companies are figuring out how to get this right, including us at Marvel.

Here’s how we’ve thought about setting our parental leave policies as a company, and why we’ve decided to offer equal leave and pay to all Marvel team members no matter their gender.

Let’s start with what may be a familiar story to companies today:

Legal advice to follow the status quo

True story: Early last year at Marvel, when we were first thinking about this topic we were working with some HR lawyers who encouraged us to offer the statutory amount of leave and pay, and no more. In the UK, women get up to 52 weeks off (not all is paid), and men/partners get 2 weeks. The statutory offer basically forces parents into traditional gender roles; the parent entitled to up to 52 weeks more or less has to become the primary care giver.

When we asked the HR lawyers about offering equal amounts to both parents, they were both bemused and confused. Why would we bother, they wondered repeatedly. Shared parental leave already exists (where a mother can give a portion of their maternity leave to their partner), that’s generous enough, surely?

“Essentially, the statutory leave offering isn’t a fair choice.”

We found ourselves really surprised by this advice when in our view, the statutory leave plus shared parental leave seemed limiting in a number of obvious ways.

The statutory parental leave entitlement in the UK goes something like this:

*I’ll sometimes call this person “parent one”
**I’ll sometimes call this person “parent two” or partner

That’s very simplified, but broadly how it works.

Some of the challenges with this unequal approach we noticed were:

  1. With only the mother, or parent one entitled to any significant length of leave, they often become the primary care-giver by default, taking on the majority of the childcare labour because they have to. And the possibility of parent two sharing any significant amount of childcare without the time off entitlement is frankly unrealistic for most families.
  2. Shared parental leave, introduced in 2015 is a step forward but still problematic because

Essentially, the statutory leave offering isn’t a fair choice. Parent one (usually a woman) becomes the primary care giver by default, not because it’s necessarily what they and their partner would have chosen.

Changing things up

The more research and reading we did on this, the more we realized what we decided at Marvel had the potential to impact the lives of the people (of all genders, but particularly women) who work for us in a very real way.

We’ve decided to offer an equal amount of leave and pay to both parents. To give people working at Marvel a genuine choice on how to raise their families. And to raise up the position of women while being generous to fathers/partners/parent twos as well. It’s a win-win.

So, what have we done at Marvel?

Marvel currently offers parental leave and pay enhancements to both parents of:

This is what a company of our size (small) can offer for now. We’re not satisfied with this by any means, and in the future when the business is able to, we commit to being more generous. We’re inspired by companies like Netflix, which recently moved to offer unlimited parental leave to both parents for the first year of a child’s life.

We are motivated by being able to give our team choices, and doing what we can to level gender inequality. And this is just the start; we will continue offering more generous time off to our team as we grow to rebalance what we see as a totally unfair statutory system.

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