Why Hacker Started Paying for Parental Leave

by Sarah Bell

This year, Hacker implemented a new paid parental leave policy, covering six weeks at full salary for birth mothers and about four and ½ weeks full salary for a spouse of the parent who gives birth (adoptive parents get the same). This is in addition to the flexible paid time off granted to every Hacker employee.

Prior to this change, Hacker offered only short-term disability, which covered six weeks at 60% salary. However, having gone on a maternity leave twice during my time at Hacker (and three times in total), I knew that this six weeks through a third-party short-term disability provider actually only amounted to four weeks at 60% salary, after a confounding two-week “processing” period following the birth. (I welcome anyone in the insurance industry who wants to explain why you do not receive six weeks following the two week waiting period. But I digress.)

It’s often said that the first step toward change is acknowledging the problem. There has been a lot of recent attention paid to the fact that the U.S. is the only industrialized nation that does not mandate paid leave for mothers of newborns. Study after study shows that paid parental leave can have a significant positive impact on the health of children and mothers. But actually doing something about it can seem out of reach; especially for smaller companies (Hacker has 55 employees). Operating on thin profit margins, it is hard to justify any additional overhead costs.

In order to make the decision to invest in this change, we had to answer this question: if we espouse to be a family-friendly company, what is our responsibility to new parents during this crucial bonding time with their newborns? The answer for us was that we needed to do the most we could to make it more tenable for parents to take needed time off of work. And as the profession of architecture strives for gender equity, it should not be ignored that one reason women leave the industry is because of the challenges they face during their childbearing and childrearing years (see The Missing 32%). A paid parental leave policy won’t change all the complexities that lead to gender inequity in the industry, but it is a step forward.

Once the company committed to making a policy change, the question became how much? I reached out to Centric Architecture, a firm in Nashville that is part of a “roundtable” of architecture firms we participate in. I knew Centric had added paid parental leave and learning how they did it demonstrated to us that it was possible. Another Portland firm, Bora Architects, recently implemented a new policy, which also inspired us to make the change.

After additional research and discussion, firm leaders decided to cover six weeks of leave at full salary through supplementing our already-in-place short-term disability coverage. This included covering the two weeks “processing” period and the remaining 40% of salary for four weeks. For spousal leave, we offer the same benefit without the disability pay, which amounts to two weeks fully paid and then the equivalent of six weeks at 40% pay (which is 4.4 weeks in total).

As for concerns that could have stopped us from making this change, these two were the big ones we had to overcome…other companies might face different obstacles:

  1. Yes, there is a financial impact. I encourage owners to look at where they invest their overhead and ask tough questions. I know how hard this is – but if employee health and well-being is a top company value, take a hard look at ways to reduce overhead expenses that don’t impact staff.
  2. There were concerns that staff who do not have kids, or plan to have kids, would find the policy unfair. I haven’t heard this from anyone here, and I hope that our other benefits that do not distinguish between parents and non-parents show broad employee support. Company benefits are never one-size-fits-all.

Every company is unique, with different financial realities and priorities. If your company has been thinking about extending  parental leave benefits, I encourage you to reach towards that goal. There is great information all over the internet that makes the social and business case for this change and organizations that help guide companies – I’ve found the Center for Parental Leave Leadership to have the best resources. Even researching this will bring awareness to the issue, which is a benefit in and of itself.

Graphic via Thinkprogress comparing paid Maternity leave. 

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