By Kate Snyder, APR
In the past year, team members at our eight-person PR agency welcomed two – count ‘em, two – babies to the world. Which means in the span of 12 months, the Piper & Gold family survived two maternity leaves, including my own.
I was convinced that, as an agency owner, it would be impossible to take more than two weeks off after having a baby. I thought, if I can just get the first two weeks, then I can start checking emails, maybe taking a phone call here or there. I wasn’t sure if I’d want more time out of the office or if I’d be ready to head back, but I didn’t believe I had options, so it didn’t really matter.
My team had a different plan. It was really important to them I get P&G’s full six-week maternity leave, or as much time as I felt like I wanted and needed. Before my leave, I was proud P&G offered a six-week paid maternity leave. I was proud we offered the option to take up to 12 weeks unpaid, mirroring larger companies and FMLA.
Of course, living the experience gave me a different perspective. But maybe not in the way you’d think.
Everyone on our team worked so hard to make sure the possibility of a six-week leave became a reality. We modified our operations process. We pulled in freelancers. We cross-trained. We waited, and waited, and waited for my two week late baby to finally show up.
I think an unpopular but real element of small business maternity leave is that it’s hard on the rest of the team. It’s inconvenient. It’s stressful. Yup. I said it. And you know what? That’s okay. Not everything in business is easy. People being out of the office is a challenge regardless of the reason. But it’s not insurmountable and it certainly shouldn’t be a reason why we make choices for families on their behalf about what they need or want or, worse, deserve.
There are all sorts of stats in fancy news outlets ranging from Time to CNN to Business Insider citing the importance of parental leave policies for mothers, fathers, babies and even businesses. Prior to my leave, I thought of our maternity leave policy as an investment in the business – a talent retention tool, an employee wellness tool and, selfishly, an investment that would benefit me and my business.
But when I came back from leave, I made some significant changes to the P&G leave policy. I immediately corrected the glaring error of our policy stating maternity leave and changed it to a family leave policy open to parents of any gender or gender identity. I added in adoption and surrogacy. And I made it a 10-week paid leave with a part-time phase-in period.
I didn’t change the policy because I want people to feel “ready” to come back, or have “the time they need to heal.” I can’t predict that. I can’t know when someone will feel ready or won’t.
And I didn’t change it because I wanted or needed more time. I recognized my experience couldn’t possibly represent every employee’s experience.
I didn’t even make the change because it’s good for the business.
I changed it because none of those things should factor in my decision to offer leave. Paid leave isn’t about me and my business.
Paid leave is simply supplementing a glaring gap in our governmental (and societal) practices. And it’s a needed supplement.
Fellow Counselors Academy member Heather Whaling of Geben Communication has been a national leader in the small business family leave dialogue. She recently launched #RewritetheRules, a crowd-sourced treasure trove of paid leave policies for small businesses to search and submit. You can even check out P&G’s policy on the site.
As small business owners and leaders, we have the power to effect real change. But to do that, we need to remove our personal experiences from the conversation. I often hear people boast about how little time they took off as a person in a position of power. Those tales are what set my expectation of two weeks as a gift.
And while, for many owners, a short leave was a choice, for many others, it was a necessity. We need to quit bragging about our lack of choices. And we need to stop projecting our own needs onto our employees. What YOU chose doesn’t matter. Whether you took five days or three months, it doesn’t matter. This isn’t about you. It’s about giving people choices – albeit imperfect ones.
Our experiences, biases and need to justify leave cloud our judgement on it.
For once, the WHY doesn’t matter here. Why someone needs or wants leave doesn’t matter. It doesn’t matter if they don’t feel ready to come back or they are still recovering or they don’t have adequate childcare or they want that time to bond with their kid. It doesn’t matter if their leave is a little slice of heaven or the trenches of parenting. No one should have to justify themselves or their access to a parental leave.
Paid parental leave can be expensive and hard and inconvenient for an agency, and at the end of the day it doesn’t actually matter if it’s “worth it” or not.
As agency leaders, we have the opportunity to actually lead in bringing the standard up to where it should already be. Is it unfair to expect us to lead when our competitors may not be held to the same standard? Sure. But – I’ll say this one more time – it’s not about us. It’s about setting a new standard and providing each employee, each family, each person more options and control over how they welcome a new family member. THAT is what it’s all about.
Kate Snyder, APR is principal strategist and owner of Lansing-based public relations boutique Piper & Gold Public Relations. To learn more about Piper & Gold’s workplace culture, search for @piperandgold on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and LinkedIn, and to see cute baby photos, search @PiperGoldKate.
You are invited - upcoming webinar
Filling the Growth Gap:
How to Create Many More Messengers for Your Agency
Thu, Aug 24, 2017 10:00 AM - 11:00 AM PDT
Free to Counselors Academy members
This session will help you fill a common gap in many agencies' growth plans – namely, getting everyone close to the agency talking about it effectively and consistently. Companies who are able to "Manage the Message" in this way can build more opportunities with clients who best fit the agency, while also taking pressure off the leadership. More details and: