6 Meaningful Ways Companies Welcome Moms Back from Maternity Leave

March 5, 2020

Closeup photo of woman kissing her baby

“Working mothers.”

The phrase is very much in vogue these days, but it’s still an odd coinage — moms have always worked, whether in the home or, increasingly, in the office. With International Women’s Day rolling out on Sunday, we’d like to salute working mothers everywhere, whether the change management they’re leading focuses on organizational overhaul or disposable diapers.

Lots of moms who have returned to the workplace have found the transition quite bumpy. So, we’d also like to tip our hats to the companies that are investing time, money, and even love into welcoming mothers (and in many cases fathers) back from parental leave in a way that is as streamlined and stress-free as possible.

Though clearly the right thing to do, these efforts are hardly  selfless. With a tight talent market in most economies, companies can’t afford to lose talented women by making work seem uninviting after time with their newborn. One study found that 34% of women don’t return from maternity leave in the United States. And research shows that companies that say farewell to too many women are not likely to fare well — to truly excel, organizations need women in their leadership and in their leadership pipelines.

Companies have boosted parental benefits with generous leave, flexible returns, and backup childcare

A few benefits are starting to become table stakes for companies serious about helping new parents make a smooth return to the workplace. These include:

  • Parental leave. Most Americans who welcome a newborn don’t receive paid time-off as the United States is one of just eight countries that doesn’t have a law mandating some paid parental leave. But more and more companies are seeing the upside in offering parental leave to both new mothers and new fathers. For example, Spotify and Etsy offer 26 weeks of paid leave to new moms and dads and Adobe offers new moms 26 weeks of paid leave and new dads 16 weeks.
  • Phased-back return. A growing number of companies have realized that giving returning parents the option to return to work on a part-time basis — sometimes called phase-back return or new parent reintegration — is a winning formula. “Parents have to get their sea legs,” says Amy Beacom, founder of the Center for Parental Leave Leadership. So, at Pinterest, new parents are given 16 weeks of paid leave and then, for the next four weeks, are fully paid but only required to come in once a week. At General Mills, new moms can work out a part-time schedule with their managers for their first two months back at work; they get full-time benefits and part-time pay.
  • Backup childcare. Finding reliable childcare often isn’t easy and, even when new parents finally get it locked in, it’s not foolproof. Providers get sick or have family emergencies — which then become family emergencies for parents with no place to take their children. So, companies such as Bank of America, Procter & Gamble, Colgate-Palmolive, and Accenture offer backup childcare service for employees. For example, Accenture provides 120 hours of subsidized backup care for a newborn’s first year and 80 hours every year thereafter.  
  • Lactation rooms and breast-milk shipping. Since 2010, U.S. companies with 50 or more employees have been required to provide nursing mothers with a lactation room for expressing breast milk. Thoughtful businesses can equip such rooms with refrigerators to store milk and snacks for breastfeeding moms (ideally, ones they can eat with one hand). A growing number of companies, including Unilever, IBM, Twitter, and Johnson & Johnson, are also offering breast milk delivery for traveling moms.

Some organizations have chosen to go even further in their efforts to embrace their new parents. Here are six companies that have found a distinctive way to say “Welcome back”:

1. Facebook offers $4,000 in ‘baby cash’

The social networking giant offers new moms and new dads $4,000 in “baby cash” to help defray costs, whether those expenses are for childcare, massages, or maybe a Mima Xari baby stroller (come on, you know you want it).

2. Airbnb makes dinner for new parents every week

At its San Francisco, Portland, Seattle, and Dublin offices, the online lodging marketplace provides fully packaged dinners for new parents once a week for the first four weeks back after parental leave.

3. KKR pays for a nanny and newborn to travel with new parent

KKR & Co., the private-equity giant, underwrites the cost of a new parent bringing their child and a nanny on a business trip until the baby turns 1. The firm rolled out this benefit — along with an extended parental leave — five years ago in the hopes of attracting and retaining more female professionals. 

4. Patagonia provides onsite childcare

According to SHRM’s 2019 Employee Benefits Survey, about 4% of U.S. companies offer free onsite childcare and another 4% offer subsidized onsite childcare. But no company has made onsite childcare quite the bedrock benefit that outdoor retailer Patagonia has. “I think the kids who come out of here,” legendary founder Yvon Chouinard has said, “are Patagonia’s best products.”

The company, which has offered onsite childcare since 1983 (and which now employs some alumni of the program), operates the Great Pacific Child Development Center at its headquarters in Ventura, California. The GPCDC has a climbing wall, garden, playground, mud kitchen, and space for a hundred children, from newborns to 9-year-olds. Patagonia also runs the Truckee River Child Development Center at its national distribution warehouse in Reno, Nevada.

5. PwC lets returning parents skip the annual review

One of the keys to creating a successful transition for employees coming back from parental leave is to reduce stress as much as possible. PwC, the global accounting firm best-known for tabulating Oscar votes, now allows parents who have returned from leave to take a pass on the annual review. Phew! “The notion of comparing someone working a full year to someone who was out for 16 weeks,” said Jennifer Allyn, who until earlier this year was PwC’s diversity strategy leader, “isn’t an apples-to-apples comparison.”

6. LinkedIn gives managers helpful guidance

While baby bucks and flowers on day one back in the office are excellent gestures, the single most important thing a company can do for someone coming back from parental leave is provide them with an understanding manager. To that end, LinkedIn created a six-page Manager Guide to help bosses help team members transition smoothly. The booklet is full of helpful checklists and tips both general (“Expect the unexpected” and “Be flexible”) and specific (“Host a meet-and-greet,” “Record a video greeting,” and “Keep a shared document of updates”). The company has also created a companion guide for employees who are coming up on parental leave.

Final thoughts

Though organizations have found a range of creative ways to ease returning parents back into the workplace, all of the family-friendly benefits listed above have one thing in common: They send a strong signal that a company wants to embrace moms coming back from maternity leave.

And with good reason. Gender diversity is a plus for business.

We have said goodbye to the days when having a baby essentially signalled the end of a woman’s career. On International Women’s Day, let’s double down on efforts to get new moms back into the office — on terms that will work best for them.

To receive blog posts like this one straight in your inbox, subscribe to the blog newsletter.

* Photo by Paul Hanaoka on Unsplash

Topics