Why the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation Cut Its Parental Leave in Half
The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation made headlines a few years back when it offered employees a 52-week paid parental leave policy. The year off gave parents the opportunity to fully morph into their new role and bond with their infant.
Three years later, the company is calling backsies.
“We have monitored the program and listened to employees—both those who have taken leave and those who have not, reviewed internal data, and learned from those in backfill positions. We saw and heard many good things, like wonderful stories of quality family time with a new child and career development opportunities for those who took on a challenging backfill opportunity,” the company shares on Linkedin.
We know what you’re thinking—how rude. And it is pretty harsh to pull the rug right from under employees’ feet. But there are some important sidebars to mention.
“We also learned the program had created some unintended consequences. We received feedback and saw in practice that a year away was more disruptive than we anticipated…On one team, 50 percent of the staff was either on leave or staffed by those in backfill positions, making the regular work of the foundation far more difficult than expected,” explains Steven Rice, chief human resources officer.
Although the year-long paid leave for new parents is no more, it’s being replaced with a six-month parental leave instead, which is still a lot longer than many other US companies offer.
“We want to make parental leave work for both new parents and the foundation overall, and still offer a generous and leading benefit in the US,” Rice says.
The updated package will include six months of paid leave for new parents, and a $20,000 taxable stipend to help with child care costs and other family needs upon parents’ return to work.
And if this doesn’t work for its employees, it’s not the be-all and end-all.
“We will continue to evaluate how we can improve our parental leave program and its impacts, including additional support for returning parents and their managers.”
So, yes—it’s totally a bummer that employees won’t be able to enjoy a full year off with their little one. That in mind, the company sounds like it’s trying to work with parents to land on a setup that allows employees to thrive at work and home. What matters most is they continue to think with moms and dads at the center of business decisions.
Parental leave policies that work for one company may not work for all. The Girl Scouts of Greater Iowa made headlines earlier this year when it announced its “infant at work” policy, which allows new parents to bring their newborns to work every single day for six months.