May 1 will be a happy day for Twitter employees—at least those expecting a baby. The social media site is the latest tech player to offer so-called "gender-neutral" parental leave, guaranteeing any parent up to 20 weeks of fully paid time off. Other companies that have embraced such policies include Etsy, Facebook, and Change.org. The rationale? Family structures have changed, and allowing for more evenly distributed parenting equals happier employees, both male and female (within, of course, both heterosexual and same-sex couples).
"The goal of this change was to expand how we think about parental leave," says Jeffrey Siminoff, Twitter's newly-appointed VP of inclusion and diversity (the exec joined the company from Apple about eight weeks ago). "Primary caregiving is something that's hard to define."
Regardless of our changing definitions of families, the vast majority of private sector employees—a whopping 88%—don't have access to any kind of paid parental leave through their employees. While Silicon Valley doesn't have the best track record when it comes to diversity and inclusion, the growing list of local companies expanding their parental leave policies has the potential to set a larger trend.
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"We’re a very watched industry because of the products and services we offer," says Siminoff. "We want to lead by example and by doing so we can influence the decisions of others."
Twitter's current policy already offers up to 20 weeks of paid leave to birth mothers, but just 10 weeks for new dads and parents who adopt. The new policy, which provides up to 20 weeks of fully paid leave for any full-time employee with a new child, will go into effect on May 1, but only for those working in the United States. Worldwide, it will be available to all of the company's 3,900 workers no later than July 1.
But just because something is available doesn't mean people will take advantage of it. Up until very recently, new dads taking as many as 20 weeks of parental leave was virtually unheard of—at least in this country. For a policy like Twitter's to have real impact, even just on its own employee base, dads in particular need to feel like it is socially acceptable to take time off to be with their babies. And both men and women need reassurance that the relatively expansive bonding time won't have a detrimental impact on their jobs.
"Managers understand why this time is so valuable," says Twitter's director of compensation and benefits, Laura Brady. "Education is critical."
According to Brady, Twitter is looking into bringing in outside trainers to help managers understand how to manage their team and workloads under the more generous parental leave policy. It isn't clear just how many employees will now be eligible for the 20 weeks of paid leave, but Brady says the company has a "typical demographic" for the tech industry.
Given the growing trend, it's likely that that demographic is going to expect gender-neutral parental leave policies at other tech companies as well. And maybe, just maybe, that will trickle out to the rest of the country too.