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 This outdated approach leaves families with no real choice on how to split the childcare labour between them, disadvantaging both parents and particularly women.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:
- Up to 52 weeks of maternity or adoption leave for mother/primary care giver*
- 2 weeks of statutory paternity leave for father/partner/secondary care giver**
- “Shared parental leave” where the primary care giver can give up a portion of the leave and share the total with the secondary care giver. E.g. both parents could take 26 weeks, totalling 52 weeks between them.
*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:
- 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.
- Shared parental leave, introduced in 2015 is a step forward but still problematic because
- There’s no entitlement to shared parental leave for parent twos. Which means they only get any if the mother opts to share it. So, if the mother wants to have 12 months of leave, partners get none. And of course, if there has been a birth, there is a very real physical and emotional recovery period needed following the pregnancy and birth, so there may be a strong preference for the mother (parent one) to take a long period of leave following a birth.
- Parent one loses out on leave entitlement if they decide to share the total time with parent two. E.g. if parent one has a total of 52 weeks, and shares 26 weeks with parent two, parent one’s own entitlement reduces to 26 weeks’ leave to compensate.
- Very few parent twos actually end up taking any shared parental leave - only 5% of men take any shared parental leave apparently. Which means the social norm is currently for men not to take much time off.
- Shared parental leave is not available to single income couples. I.e. if parent one is not in employment, no shared parental leave is possible for the partner.
- We have a massive gendered pay gap in the UK. Meaning it’s economically more likely for women, as the statistically lower earners, to take time off. Then, by having more time away from the workplace, they’re more likely to suffer gendered pay penalties in the future, contributing further to the pay gap.
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:
- 6 weeks leave at full pay; plus
- 6 weeks leave at half pay; plus
- 6 weeks at quarter pay
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.