Parental Leave

An employee benefit that provides parents paid or unpaid time around the time of a birth or adoption of a child. [Wikipedia]

Facts and Data

  • The longer anybody is on parental leave, the more likely they are to be demoted and fired. Men who seek work schedules that include more parenting are marginalized and penalized [HBR]. Similarly as a woman's parental leave increases, both men and women see her work ethic less favorably [HBR]

  • Women take more parental leave than men, therefore their careers are harmed more often. Even when parental leave is offered to both parents to share, women tend to take the vast majority of that time. For example, only 13% of eligible men use any parental leave in Canada – where it is federally guaranteed for all parents – compared to 91% of eligible new mothers [HBR]

  • Offering leave to mothers only exacerbates inequity. Policies that allow more than six months for mothers only, and do not permit the same to fathers, appear to exacerbate the gender divide in terms of career progression [HBR]

   Despite all this...
  • Parental leave seen as net benefit by employers. Employers in California reported that the state parental leave law of 2002 had either a "positive" or "no noticeable" effect on productivity (89%) and profitability/performance (91%) [Scientific American]. A study by EY found that 92% of companies with a paid family leave policy found it had a "positive" or "no noticeable" effect on profitability [BCG]

  • Paid leave increases chances of women coming back to the workforce. Women who take paid leave are 93% more likely to be in the workforce 9 to 12 months after a child's birth than women who take no leave [BCG]


I've observed that parental leave is another extremely important moment for women at work. The best examples I've seen are when men are proactive about picking up work to temporarily shepherd it in good faith (vs. a land grab) and bringing women back into the fold when they return.

Hear it Firsthand

got pregnant and went on 8 months paternity leave in 2007 while a senior member of staff, running the IT department. The day before I returned, they informed me of a meeting I was to attend... Turns out they had already given my job to someone else (a man). They eventually offered me a role in a different department with 20% less salary and without management team seniority. I took it, as my family desperately needed the income - I was my family's primary income source. By 2015, I had worked my way back to the senior management team again. I am still the only woman on it, and I earn 25% less than the next lowest paid manager.”

A Suggestion

Here's what I've found to be helpful as a manager of women taking parental leave. Make sure they're still being given valuable work as they leave and return, and stay in touch while they're gone. When they come back to work, they'll be very connected to their new kid, and you have to make it worthwhile for them to be back.

I've probably been through eight parental leaves with women. I whiffed it once, and it really hurt, and I think ultimately led to this woman leaving the company. I think her return was unsettling as I just didn't give her a meaningful project right when she got back.

Take Action

  • Use "Keep in Touch" parental leave programs. "Keep in Touch" programs are when a leave-taker is paired with a coworker who can, for example, keep them updated on their projects, clients, and other coworkers [HBR]

  • Have a dialogue and create a plan for on and off ramps. Employee absences can be disruptive—both for those going on leave and for those covering for them. Start a dialogue and create a plan that includes managers and those covering for employees on leave [BCG]

  • Check your assumptions. Check your assumptions about new parents’ career and family priorities. Some employees may need or request changes to their work schedule; others may not [HBR]

  • Offer phased returns. Phased returns offer “check-in days” during leave and a gradual return that ramps up from three days a week to four, and then to five [HBR]

  • Make a company-specific checklist. Share this organization wide [BCG]

  • Create a parent-friendly culture. Support an organizational culture that positions parental leave as a brief interlude, not a major disruption. Include a mentoring program that matches experienced high performing parents with new parents [HBR]

  • Reward outcomes not time. Healthy organizational cultures also focus on outputs over face time [HBR]