Does Agency Life Support Working Parents?

My husband and I became friendly with the quintessential Parisian couple: Effortlessly stylish, never age or take a bad picture, have high-powered jobs and give birth to supermodels.

 

And of course, Facebook shows them mostly sailing around Anguilla or hitting farmstands in the French Riviera. Because they have 6 weeks of vacation during the summer… or 6 months after giving birth to a supermodel.

 

Meanwhile, I’m saying “No, no” to a talented young mom that wants to come back to work, “I don’t have anything that would allow you to work from home, or leave by 5:45 to make the daycare pick-up.” Seems we’re either Leaning In or SAHMing it on this side of the ocean.

 

But some companies like Vodafone and Huge are rewriting the rules, offering fully-paid maternity leaves and phase-back programs that permit abbreviated work weeks and flexible hours for returning employees. Benefits are extended to dads too!

 

(To appreciate how revolutionary this is, check out the dismal stats on the maternity leave in the US, where 1 in 4 women return to work 10 days after having a baby and only 12% have access to paid parental leave.)

 

Here’s last week’s AdAge article about Huge:

 

Digital agency Huge is investing heavily in its working mothers. The Interpublic Group of Cos.-owned shop this month introduced a phase-back program for new moms meant to make the return to work after maternity leave less heartbreaking and more empowering.

 

Over the years, the company worked ad hoc with new mothers to negotiate schedules that made sense for their family situations. Now Huge has updated its benefits package to formally include the phase-back plans so they are available to all new moms in the company’s U.S. offices, with international offices to follow. It will allow all new mothers to work with their managers to customize a return plan, which could mean “choosing among flexible hours, shorter workdays or remote work in the six months following parental leave,” said Huge President and Chief Operating Officer Shirley Au (pictured far left in picture).

 

The move follows telecom giant Vodafone’s decision in March to give female employees at least 16 weeks paid maternity leave and full pay for 30-hour work weeks in the six months following their return. The company determined that not only would the plan allow new moms proper time to bond with their babies and adjust to their new lives, it would also “mean less recruitment and training costs and the ability to retain talented women whose knowledge and experience at the company are not easy to replace,” said a Vodafone spokeswoman. The company released the “Maternomics” video following its announcement to help further explain its decision.

 

“Our experience is that making it easier for mothers to transition back into full-time work allows more women to continue their careers at Huge rather than put their professional development on hold,” Ms. Au said. “I also want people to feel like when they’re pregnant, it’s great news, not news that you’d want to hide.”

 

For Huge, in particular, that thinking is key to retaining the shop’s top talent, many of whom are new moms. Ms. Au herself has a three-year-old son and a four-month-old daughter. Other female leaders with young children include VP-Technology Gela Fridman, VP-User Experience Emily Wengert, and Creative Directors Megan Man and Jessica Bauer-Greene.   The agency already had a generous parental leave program in place. It includes twelve fully-paid weeks for mothers or main caretakers, plus six fully-paid weeks for fathers or secondary caretakers.

 

Other agencies are also seeking to lessen employees’ new parenting burdens — Wieden & Kennedy, for example, gives four months of paid leave to new moms, two months of paid leave to new dads or families going through adoption, plus $500 to be used to cover expenses, including food, in the first month of a new child’s arrival.

 

If you’re looking to get buy-in for the same benefits at your company, here’s what to tell them:

 

Vodafone offers its employees 16 weeks paid maternity leave and a 4-day work week at full pay for the first 6 months back.

 

The company estimates rolling out this policy would cost global businesses $28 billion, but recruiting and training employees to replace women leaving after a baby could cost up to $47 billion. In addition, it could save families $14 billion in childcare, and give babies 608 million additional days with their mothers.

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