Tech companies have been been tripping over themselves lately to announce progressive parental leave policies. Netflix now offers unlimited paid leave to both mothers and fathers for the first year after birth. Etsy recently announced six-months paid time off for either parent, joining Google, Facebook, and Twitter with similar policies.
The New York-centric creative industry is much less known for generous employee perks, but it too is now launching an effort to try to improve the status quo, which isn’t great.
"In this industry, we don’t do very well for parental leave benefits, and, additionally, we don’t do very well for work-life balance," says Jules Ehrhardt, co-owner of the digital product studio Ustwo. He says he saw the tech industry’s progress and was disappointed that the creative industry "isn’t stepping up at all."
Ustwo is leading an effort to change that. Eleven creative agencies, including Ideo, Betaworks, and Smart Design, announced today they are signing a new "parental leave pledge" that aims to set the minimum bar for the entire industry. The signers of the pledge agree to offer at least three-months full paid leave to the primary caregiver, three months of uninterrupted health insurance, and a six-month guarantee that their job will be held open, and to publish their parental leave benefits online.
Ehrhardt initially approached 18 companies. Most of the signers are smaller New York-based design and innovation firms, though many did already have parental leave policies. A few, he says, created them in order to sign the pledge, such as the London-based firm Made by Many. "Our New York office is relatively new and has been exploring what made sense for its employees and for the business. In other words, the Pledge PL came along at an ideal time to help us think through what to offer," says Sukh Bachal, a product strategist at Made by Many.
Ehrhardt hopes that the pledge can spread beyond New York—and to larger advertising agencies. Even companies that already go beyond the pledge minimum, he says, can create momentum by signing on and making their leave policies public. Today, when employees interview for a job, there’s a stigma and fear attached to even asking questions about parental leave.
The U.S. is one of the few countries in the world that doesn’t require any paid maternity leave by law, although a small number of states, including California and New Jersey, are fixing that locally. Ehrhardt said the U.S. policies were "a big shock" when Ustwo, a U.K. company that also has offices in Sweden, opened its New York office four years ago. By law, England offers 12 months of government-subsidized paid leave—Sweden offers 18 months. In New York, Ustwo currently offers its employees four months of paid leave.
The pledge isn’t nearly as generous as what many tech companies have announced, but it’s a minimum that makes it easier for firms to sign on. Many creative agencies, Ehrhardt says, operate on a consultancy business model with lower profit margins and less cash on hand, he says. What the tech and creative industries do have in common is that they operate in competitive labor markets that spend a lot on recruiting—offering paid leave can help recruiting and retaining good employees, he says.