Work-Life Integration//

Goldman Sachs Just Raised the Bar for Parental Leave in America

The financial firm got rid of the "primary" caregiver benefit, which reinforces the idea that one parent should be more involved than the other.

Shutterstock / Foxy burrow
Shutterstock / Foxy burrow

Many businesses that offer paid parental leave force employees to make a major distinction: Choose a parent who’ll be the “primary” caregiver to the child, and that parent will get significantly more leave than the “secondary” caregiver. 

While it’s theoretically a win for gender equality in the workforce (the primary parent could be a mom or a dad), the policy is desperately behind the times. Because forcing families to designate a primary caregiver reinforces the idea that one parent (in dual-parent families) is “more” responsible for child-rearing than the other. As Hilary Rau and Joan C. Williams wrote in The Harvard Business Review, “Such policies reflect the assumption that families will have one primary caregiver, supported by a partner with few, or no, caregiving responsibilities. It’s the old-fashioned homemaker/breadwinner model clothed in a tissue-thin veneer of gender neutrality.”

That’s why this week’s news that Goldman Sachs will now offer 20 weeks of paid leave (up from 16) to all parents, regardless of gender or caregiver status, is worthy of headlines. “By removing the distinction between primary and secondary caregiver, Goldman Sachs is committing to supporting all new parents, birthing and non-birthing,” Mary Beth Ferrante, the co-founder & CEO of WRK/360, a platform designed to help retain and attract working parents, tells Thrive. “I’ve personally had managers share with me that they hire men over women due to their concerns regarding women taking too much time away from work. So as more and more men and non-birthing women have the opportunity to access and utilize parental leave, it will reduce the gender bias that has historically hurt new mothers.”

Utilization, of course, is key. After all, no policy can have far-reaching implications on workplace culture unless employees are willing to adopt it. And plenty of research to date suggests that even when fathers have access to generous parental leave policies, they are reluctant to take it. “It’s tough enough for many men to even acknowledge being caregivers. So declaring themselves the ‘primary’ caregivers is often completely out of the question,” The Atlantic noted. By removing the distinction of “primary,” companies may also be taking an important step to reduce the stigma attached to a longer leave for working dads. A vocal advocate for this issue on a national scale is Reddit co-founder Alexis Ohanian, who took 16 weeks of paid paternal leave after his daughter with Serena Williams was born in 2017. Williams suffered health complications after the birth, which necessitated that Ohanian take the lead in baby Olympia’s care. Since then, Ohanian has used his social channels to spread the message and bust stigma, and now he has taken the fight for paid family leave to Congress. In October, he spent a week on Capitol Hill, lobbying lawmakers for a national family leave policy.

This latest move by Goldman isn’t the first time the company decided to take a hard look at their leave policy and make changes. In 2015, the company doubled parenting leave for non-primary caregivers from two weeks to four. “We realized that we have a number of employees where both spouses or partners are working and in order to provide opportunities for them to balance both their work and personal lives, it was important to provide individuals the opportunities to spend more time with their families,” Laura Young, VP of Benefits and Wellness at Goldman Sachs said at the time.

But there’s more at stake than just the benefit for families. When companies get serious about building cultures that make it easier for parents to thrive, everyone wins. Generous, gender-neutral paternity-leave policies can give companies an edge in recruiting top talent. “The world is a very competitive place, and if you want great people in your organization, you have to take care of them, you have to have a culture that is open, and inclusive, and inviting and supportive,” Goldman Sachs CEO David Solomon told Yahoo Finance this week.

When one of the biggest names in finance — and what some still consider an old boys’ club on Wall Street — ups the ante on paid leave, it has the power to pave the way for other businesses to follow suit. “Goldman Sachs has always been a leader in providing great benefits to their employees, and their actions create a ripple effect, especially in the financial industry,” says Ferrante.

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