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I criticized my employer’s parental leave. Then they changed it.

  • Posted on July 25, 2022
  • Estimated reading time 4 minutes
Avanade’s paternity leave change

Twice a year, Avanade sends out an employee engagement survey. The goal is to measure your satisfaction and well-being with questions like, “How often do you consider looking for another job?” and “Do you feel comfortable being yourself at work?”

I always give high marks. I joined the organization because of its incredible benefits: new ways of working that include a four-day work week option and well-being resources; an annual budget for things like travel, gym memberships, or new tech; and great maternity leave. Earlier this year, I enjoyed a fully paid 16-week leave after giving birth to my third baby.

But I had, on the last couple surveys, shared one criticism — the parental leave policy. My husband works at the company too, and while I got to spend 16 weeks with our newborn (eight for recovery and eight for bonding), he was labeled the “secondary caregiver” and only got two.

A lot of companies spout off about their values, especially in this age of the Great Resignation. I’ve seen mine actually operate by them with real investments in inclusion and diversity, the previously mentioned flexibility, and growth and development programs. But suggesting that families have “primary” and “secondary” caregivers doesn’t align with those values, which is the point I politely made in my employee survey. Why would a mother need eight weeks of bonding but a father only need two?

A few months ago, we celebrated International Women’s Month, and this year’s theme was #BreakTheBias. Our conversations about this month and specific theme often revolve around pay equity, sexual harassment or discrimination. But to me, a piece of the puzzle that’s often missing is paternity leave. If we want equitable partnerships in the home and equal footing for men and women in the workplace, it is crucial that men are given that time as well — and empowered to take it. Yes, let’s break the bias that women aren’t as ambitious or career-oriented, but let’s also break the bias that women are the primary caregivers.

Which is why I was so thrilled to see, on March 1, that my husband and I (and all U.S. employees at our company) received an email that the leave policy was changing. Women would still be eligible for eight weeks of recovery and eight weeks of bonding, but there would no longer be primary and secondary caregivers. All parents, regardless of gender, would be eligible for eight weeks of bonding. My husband, who already took two weeks at the beginning of my baby’s life, can now take another six at any point in his first year.

Of course, we celebrated what this means for our family: time for my husband and son to further bond, more support for me at home, the potential to delay the need for childcare as his immune system strengthens. Eight weeks feels huge — not the length of a typical work vacation but an actual leave.

But I can’t help but also celebrate the change as a sign of our culture shifting. Of a world where companies ask their employees for feedback and actually make changes. Where we value present mothers and fathers equally and create policies that truly reflect that. Where work-life balance isn’t a buzz word, but something that is practiced and produces happier families.

I am proud of the way Avanade creates space for important conversations. But I am even more proud of how leaders take actions based on the feedback that comes from those conversations. There is real comfort in feeling like your employer is actually listening when you raise a problem – and even more in seeing them make a change.

Annabel Nichols

Inspirational story! And gorgeous family! Thank you for your idea and thank you avanade for being progressive, inclusive and innovative

July 27, 2022

Lauren Chval

Thank you, Annabel! I've loved having you as a model of successful working parent at Avanade.

July 27, 2022

Julie Madayag

Wonderful article and beautiful family!

July 26, 2022

Lauren Chval

Thank you, Julie! Feel very lucky to have witnessed and benefitted from this change.

July 26, 2022

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