With less than five weeks away from Election Day, both Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump are doubling down on their messages in the hope of gaining voters’ support.
Over the last month, the two candidates have crystalized many issues in the attempt to woo middle-class voters with family- and personal finance-related proposals. Both Clinton and Trump presented a formal platform for mandated family leave.
Though the U.S. lags behind many developed countries for its nationally mandated family paid leave, the top tech companies have different and interesting programs that may help inform the problems both Trump and Clinton are trying to solve.
First, let’s look briefly at what Clinton and Trump are calling for. Trump’s plan calls for six weeks of paid maternity leave to protect mothers (and only mothers) whose employers would not provide this. The benefits would be paid through unemployment insurance. Clinton’s plan allows any gender parent to take up to 12 weeks of family leave and receive at least two-thirds of their current wages during that leave.
The two plans are similar in theory—give parents paid time off whether or not employers provide it. Clinton’s, however, is more inclusive because it includes not only fathers but also people who are taking care of ill family members. Trump's plan includes a Dependent Care savings account to provide care for elderly dependents.
In short, both candidates believe that (some) parents should be able to take time off to have a child and be compensated during that period. Ironically, companies have noticed that paid leave does bring in returns. So the conversation is now being shifted from whether or not these benefits should exist to how they should be implemented.
Facebook and Apple, for instance, once got press for offering employees access to egg freezing. At the time, the move was criticized as an implicit way of telling female employees to not have babies while climbing the corporate ladder. But it's become more standardized as a possibility for people in large companies who are considering starting a family.
Facebook offers a suite of perks for families trying to figure out how they can start a family. Egg freezing is just one, adoption support is another, as well as aid with surrogacy. Facebook gives four months of "paid baby leave" for all new parents, regardless of gender. Tudor Havriliuc, Facebook’s vice president of human resources, describes the company’s family benefits programs as a promise to "take good care of our people and support them." The company also offers a cash benefit for new children, new parenting classes, and private nursing rooms.
Similarly, LinkedIn tries to maximize paid time off for parents. The company gives mothers 100% of their salary for the actual maternity leave and then an additional six weeks of paid parental leave for all employees over the first year. Nina McQueen, LinkedIn’s vice president of global benefits, says the company is trying to make its parental benefits "something that’s meaningful to employees."
In fact, both Havriliuc and McQueen say that they wanted to make sure the programs they offered mirrored the needs of their employees. McQueen set up focus groups to learn more about staff needs. And Facebook's Havriliuc says, "We did our first survey to see how these benefits are received."
Both HR executives found that employees had similar expectations from their companies. They wanted paid leave for new family arrivals and also specific support networks to help them figure out work-life balance over the first year. What seems to be working is not only giving families space but also fostering a family-inclusive culture.
IBM also offers an expansive suite of benefits for new families. Beyond paid leave—mothers get 14 weeks, and fathers and adoptive parents get six weeks—the 105-year-old company believes that the real key is instilling a culture that signals to employees how important it is that they use these benefits. Lindsay-Rae McIntyre, IBM’s vice president of human resources, says that having management who instill an inclusive culture is key to creating a space that is welcoming to new families. IBM has been offering paid time off since the '50s, and McIntyre says it has been working to make sure all employees take advantage of their benefits.
"When you have a management that is supported and trained on a suite of offerings that they can then use to customize a support solution at the employee level," she says, "then you have managers who can walk the talk." That is, it’s not only companies’ jobs to offer a baseline of family-oriented perks, it’s also necessary for these places to have higher-ups who know what’s available and make sure their employees use them.
Each of these companies, and many of their tech peers, like Netflix, offer paid family leave policies that at least match, if not exceed, those of the candidates’ platforms. What they all say is most important, however, is that they made sure the policies reflected staffs' needs. "How do we allow [employees] to be successful as working parents?" McIntyre asks.
What Clinton and Trump offer may seem like a starting point, but companies and lawmakers need to work to instill a culture where people take full advantage of their benefits. McQueen, for instance, says that often fathers don't take off the full time they're allotted.
A 1,000-person company is not the same as a 50-person one, but even small businesses can make paid parental leave work. "No single program is the answer," says McIntyre. And ultimately, "it's a cultural point." Create an environment that both provides baseline services for its works and instills a philosophy that it's okay to use them.
The way to do that? Says McIntyre, "start with management."