One year ago Change.org introduced a new policy that gave men and women 18 weeks fully paid parental leave. This applies to all parents; birth parents, adoptive parents, men and women. It was important to us that the language of our policy wasn't heteronormative and that we supported our staff in creating families in all shapes and sizes.
The launch of our equal parental leave policy coincided with the new UK rules around shared parental leave. The Shared Parental Leave rules mean that new fathers and new mothers could share up to 50 weeks of parental leave. The new rules don't oblige companies to offer fathers similar entitlements to paid parental leave that mothers get, but we wanted to make it feasible for any new parent to spend time with their newborn. We did this because we thought it would be good for new parents and good for business.
One year on, we are measuring exactly how impactful the change in parental leave has been. Here are the most important ways it shapes our business. By making leave equal we aimed to challenge the assumptions that women are the only people who want to take on childcare. It took me by surprise at just how strongly this resonated with people, even after all the research that went into crafting the policy. Fathers and new fathers told me how proud they were to work at a company that recognises that they want to be involved in their children's lives and creates a reality where they can do so.
Kaz Patwa our Director of Operations who will be making use of the policy early next year explained the importance of this to me: "Having this time is going to be great to ease the burden on my wife and allow me to spend time with both my daughters. It's fantastic that Change.org values this for me as a father and is making it possible."
Crucially, we don't just offer staff the leave, we also create a culture where they are welcome to take it, and most new parents do. Ideally, this won't seem radical for too long, but in many pockets of business giving men the opportunity to be involved in the lives of their newborns is unheard of. Equal leave removes a gender bias that exists around childcare and parenthood and this shapes the way that all staff grow in the organisation. This is an important end in itself and also has an impact on encouraging diversity and talent.
Another way that our generous parental leave entitlement shapes our business is that it creates a dynamic environment which builds resilience in our quickly growing business structure. Giving new parents a quarter to focus on the new life that they brought home from the hospital creates a huge opportunity to stretch junior staff and tests our team formation. It is obvious how covering for someone on parental leave can be a good stretch opportunity for a junior member of staff; they learn new skills and take on new responsibility.
What isn't so obvious is how this can be a really critical part of building a sustainable business. Particularly in jobs that allow some scope for individuals to make the role their own, every now and then, especially in fast growing business, you need to make sure that the teams that you are creating is sustainable, which is to say that it isn't totally dependent on the individuals currently doing the job. Having someone devote their time to their new family for a quarter of the year (or more) creates this opportunity. Additionally having staff who are cross trained in different roles is good in fast growing businesses where having many perspectives is a benefit in a changing landscape.
Once new parents are back to work, we want to celebrate everything that they have learned and the journey that they are going on. This means creating a culture of ongoing support through parents groups, welcoming children when they swing by the office and flexible working. This was really important for Irene Milliero, Change.org's Regional Campaigns Director for Europe who said: "Being able to take my Lola to the office every Friday was so great for me, for her and for the office spirit! I didn't have to stress over arrangements, she developed her social skills and people in the office were so happy to have a baby around!".
It also means recognising that many new parents develop serious new skills applicable in their jobs when they are raising a new life. Our parental leave policy allows us to move past stereotypes about what a parent can or can't be at work. We are lucky to have a culture that encourages people to create authentic relationships at work and our parental leave policy is one of the many ways that we do this.
The next step for our policy is to iterate and make make improvements where we can. We are going to pay close attention to the experiences of teams that have staff who take leave and return from leave. More ambitiously, we want to encourage other companies to give all parents equal leave entitlements, not just because it is the right thing to do, but also because it is good for business.