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The Future of Work

Etsy's New Paid Parental Leave Policy Is Designed To Counteract Gender Bias

New parents of either gender, in any circumstance, will be offered six months off with pay.

[Photo: Flickr user Nana B Agyei]

Etsy is adding its name to a growing list of technology companies offering extended paid parental leave. Starting in April, Etsy employees will be eligible for 26 weeks of fully paid leave over the first two years after birth. Others, such as Spotify, are offering six months off with pay. Etsy is taking a page from the music-streaming service’s parental playbook by offering the benefit to any employed parent—mother or father—whether they have a child through birth or adoption.

In a blog post, Etsy’s director of culture and engagement, Juliet Gorman, says:

At least eight of those weeks must be taken continuously in the first six months. Studies show that early caregiving time is critical for all parents to feel bonded and competent in the long term, and these eight weeks also provide crucial recovery time for mothers who have given birth. The remaining 18 weeks can be scheduled flexibly over two years.

An Etsy spokesperson tells Fast Company that while the flexibility offered in some policies, such as those with "unlimited" leave, can be helpful, there is the potential that parents won’t take as much leave as they need because they're unduly influenced by established office norms and work pressures. "Programs designed in this way can perpetuate the gender division and brutal work culture that we’re actively working against," she says.

Etsy’s CEO Chad Dickerson took full advantage of the company’s existing leave policy when he adopted his son in 2014 and felt it was important enough to speak publicly about it in order to encourage other working dads (especially those in leadership positions) to do the same.

Gorman writes that the new parental leave policy builds on this by being specifically designed to be "gender-blind" to counteract unconscious bias. As such, managers will be assisted when planning workers’ leave, including reorganizing staff. They will additionally be educated on avoiding workplace bias against mothers and fathers, and on best practices for supporting their employees’ career aspirations as they become parents.

Research shows that both mothers and fathers face biases and unique pressures at work. Compared to women without children, mothers are half as likely to be recommended for a promotion and offered an average of $11,000 less in salary. Fathers who take leave also experience lower performance ratings and steeper reductions in future earnings. This is wrong-headed. As a business, Etsy needs people who are clear on our priorities, motivated, and focused on achieving our long-term goals, and we know that being a parent is not mutually exclusive to being this type of employee. In fact, we believe that policies that retain talented parents strengthen our overall employee base.

Etsy already sponsors a family-friendly work environment that includes hosted parties for parents and kids (and dogs), provides highchairs in the kitchen to encourage family lunches, and allows parents a certain amount of autonomy over how they structure their work days.

This new policy also serves to align with overall vision for Etsy’s marketplace that gives creatives a flexible way to build their own businesses. "We want to support and enable parents, regardless of their gender, to play equal roles in building successful companies and nurturing their families," Gorman writes.

Related: What Netflix's Amazing New Unlimited Parental Leave Policy Really Means