The gauntlet has been thrown.
EY debuted a new parental leave policy on Wednesday that will expand its employee benefits to up to 16 fully-paid weeks for all new moms and dads in the U.S. The professional services firm also took the subtext of most splashy parental benefits announcement and made it explicit, essentially saying, “Our policy blows our competitors’ benefits out of the water.”
The announcement, which also revealed that EY will offer up to $25,000 per same or opposite sex couple for fertility, surrogacy, adoption, and egg freezing services, includes much of the standard discussion of how the new policies will benefit employees and strengthen the company’s workforce.
But it also throws down the gauntlet for other professional services firms. The headline on a press release declares, “U.S. firm now leads professional services in paid time off for new parents,” and the company notes that the new policies make EY a “1st mover in equalizing parental leave benefits for men and women among the Big Four, Accenture, IBM and other professional services firms.”
“Providing our people with equal benefits unmatched in professional services, not only demonstrates our commitment to helping our families succeed, but also empowers all of our parents— men and women—to take advantage of this special bonding time with their child before returning back to work,” said Stephen Howe Jr., EY’s U.S. chairman and Americas managing partner, in a statement.
For parental leave watchers, this is an encouraging development. As the war for talent has heated up, more big tech, financial services, and professional services companies have started touting paid leave benefits—as well as options like breast milk shipping, childcare and family transition coaching—as way to compete for the best and brightest workers. Yet it’s rare for companies to explicitly call themselves out as the sector leader in parental benefits, all but daring their competitors to match or best their policies. If EY’s shot across its competitors’ bows helps spark a benefit arms race, working moms and dads will be the victors.
The advantages of having a sector-leading policy go beyond just attracting new talent, says Karyn Twaronite, EY global diversity & inclusiveness officer. “It offers people pride,” she says. “It’s a good indictor of what we value.” Indeed, after the policy was announced internally, Twaronite says she stayed up until 2:30 am reading all the emails she received from employees who reached out to her to express their excitement about the announcement—including those who told her that they don’t personally plan to avail themselves of the new benefits.
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But does EY’s 16 weeks of fully-paid leave for all parents having a new child through birth, adoption, surrogacy, foster care or legal guardianship—which go into effect on July 1—live up to the hype? Fortune took a look at the paid-leave benefits offered by all the companies called out in EY’s announcement. (Note: To keep things simple, we looked at parental leave only, despite the fact that many of these companies offer other interesting benefits). Here’s how they compare.
Deloitte: primary caregivers up to eight weeks of fully-paid parental leave (in addition to any short-term disability benefits—typically six to eight weeks) and non-primary caregivers up to three weeks of fully-paid leave.
PwC: all new parents get either six weeks of consecutive leave (in addition to any short-term disability benefits—typically six to eight weeks). Anyone who has more than one child at a time gets an additional two paid weeks off.
KPMG: up to 18 weeks of fully paid parental leave for birth mothers. All other primary caregivers are eligible for six weeks of fully paid leave.
Accenture: Birth mothers get 16 weeks leave fully paid. All other primary caregivers get eight weeks.
IBM: 14 weeks paid leave for birth mothers, six weeks paid leave for fathers and six weeks paid for all adoptive parents.
For now, it appears that EY holds the professional services paid-leave belt. But for how long?
This story has been updated to reflect a post-publication response from KPMG and to correct an error in PwC’s leave policy, due to incorrect information on PwC’s web site.