Ali Kuhn discusses the value of paid parental leave in the US and how her personal maternity experience informed our change of policy.
More than 186 countries now provide paid maternity leave—also known more broadly as family or parental leave for both parents—but the United States is not among them, despite being one of the richest countries on Earth. It’s a shame that the US offers new parents so little time with their newborns, while countries like Australia guarantee a continuous paid maternity leave period of up to 12 weeks and a dad/partner leave period of up to two weeks. Caregivers should have the opportunity to spend time with their children during those formative months.
That’s why SERB Pharmaceuticals, operating as BTG Pharmaceuticals in the US, took action by crafting a new parental leave policy to bridge the gap in US social programs. Our company now offers 12 weeks of paid maternity leave for mothers, and two weeks of paid paternity leave for fathers.
The Inspiration Behind Our New Policy
This wasn’t an executive decision made behind closed doors. In fact, our diversity and inclusion team—made up of various members of our international workforce—first brought the idea of revisiting our parental paid leave policies to the table. Their first-hand accounts of how successful these policies were in other countries inspired many of us. When an Australian member of our HR team asked about building awareness for our US paid leave policy, I had to tell her that we didn’t have one.
I knew firsthand how our lack of paid maternity leave affected those first few months of raising a child. Before I took my first maternity leave in 2020, I was forced to save up all my time off for a year and a half, and set aside a separate account where I saved up thousands of dollars to make up for lost wages. When I finally did take time off, I relied on short-term disability, which provides 70% of an employee’s pay for six weeks, and then went on unpaid leave for the remainder. When I returned to work, I had very little paid time off left over, which made taking care of my child even more difficult.
Why Paid Parental Leave Matters
Many US women today face the same reality that I did, including whether to take on huge financial burdens, and potential career disruption, to start a family. Less than a quarter of American workers have access to paid family leave at their workplace. As a result, many women are choosing to jump ship to other employers with more generous policies. Millions are leaving the workforce altogether.
Paid maternity leave improves female employee retention drastically. Research from the US Department of Labor showed that new mothers who took paid leave were significantly less likely to quit their jobs before or after the birth of their child. When Google expanded its paid parental leave policy from 12 weeks to 18 weeks, for example, the quit rate for new mothers fell by 50%. And states that offer paid maternity leave, such as California and New Jersey, have largely closed the gap in workforce participation between mothers with young children and women without minor children. We found that the cost of a parental leave was far less than the cost would be to hire and train replacements for women who choose to quit to have children, and supports the continued development and career progression of women in our company.
Our CEO, Anthony Higham, knew how crucial this policy was for recruitment, retention, and morale, and made its implementation a priority. The company acknowledged that improving our policy was in line with a culture where employees support and respect one another. And admittedly, updating our policy also helped our company to stay competitive with our peers in the pharmaceutical landscape like Johnson & Johnson and Boston Scientific, which already had such policies in place.
But this new policy is more than just a recruiting tool: maternity leave contributes to healthy childhood bonding, improves maternal health, and reduces stress for both parents. Paternity leave allows a father to develop a relationship with his child—an opportunity most men aren’t afforded in those first few weeks. Most importantly, it can make you a better parent.
The Second Time Around
Soon after our parental leave policy was put in place, I had two sales colleagues call me to express their gratitude because they were pregnant. Little did I know I’d soon be joining them.
I had my second child in January 2022, and it was a completely different experience. I was able to take 12 weeks of paid leave, and an additional four weeks of vacation time. The extra money I would have spent on living expenses could instead be spent on baby food and the rising costs of day-to-day goods. And I was able to take care of both of my children during the COVID-19 pandemic without feeling rushed to return back to work—an extraordinary privilege, especially when you are the primary breadwinner for your family. When I returned to work this time, I felt refreshed, prepared, and had fully recovered from my C-section.
Why US Companies and Organizations Need This Today
Recent developments, including The Great Resignation and the recent shortage of baby formula, clearly show that we made the right choice. Millennials have different expectations when it comes to workplace culture and policies, and are always looking for the next best thing. Companies need to understand that this age group is already having children, and plan accordingly.
Ultimately, when it comes to offering paid family leave, the big question is: If not now, then when? Why shouldn’t employers in the US match the standards set by peer nations and businesses around the globe? If your company’s leadership can’t answer those questions, then the time for the US to catch up is now.