How to ensure parental leave policies are inclusive

inclusive parental leave policy
  • Employers should start by exploring what potential and current employees are looking for in an inclusive parental leave policy.
  • The use of gender inclusive language in parental leave policies helps to avoid primary caregiver assumptions and ensures all employees feel included.
  • Regularly reviewing policies and seeking employee feedback are also important actions to take.

Global HR firm Remote’s June 2023 Pride in parenting: how workplaces can offer inclusive parental leave policies report revealed that 39% of employees think their employer should do more to make their parental leave policy inclusive. This raises the question of what should be included and how policies can be designed.

Developing inclusive policies

A good place to start is to ask employees about their own experiences when designing policies,  because this may influence the process. Learning more about employees’ parenting or caring experiences at all levels of an organisation can be useful.

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It is also important to regularly review policies, as well as seek out employee feedback. Employers that listen to parents’ and caregivers’ voices will be rewarded with higher employee retention rates and increased engagement and productivity, says Denise Priest, executive director Work and Family Solutions at Bright Horizons.

“Focus groups, parent networks and employee surveys will help measure impact and identify gaps, as will looking at exit interviews and questions raised by job candidates,” she says. “Employers should ask themselves: what are potential and current employees looking for, and what makes a truly family-friendly employer?”

Parental leave policies should be written in gender inclusive language without any assumption of who the primary caregiver is. This helps to maintain equity, ensures same-sex couples feel included and avoids discriminating against single-parent families.

What to consider

Remote’s research also highlighted that 47% believe an inclusive parental leave policy should have a gender-neutral approach, while 51% think same-sex couples should have identical leave to different-sex couples, and 53% believe adoptive couples should have the same rights as birth parents.

Barbara Matthews, chief people officer at Remote, says: “Each organisation’s parental leave policies should offer clear guidance on the amount of leave available to new parents, the level of pay throughout this period of leave, and the pre- and post-long-term leave procedures the individual will follow.”

Inclusive parental leave policies should, therefore, support all parents as much as possible regardless of gender, sexual orientation or how a child joins the family. This message should be widely shared as the intention is to ensure all parents, and those hoping to become parents, feel supported.

“Policies should include clear processes and guidelines for managers and for employees around how to prepare for leave, during the leave, and post-leave to ensure all parents feel supported in their careers while growing their families,” Matthews says. “This includes clear handover plans before taking leave, scheduled contact meetings during [leave periods] when required, and sessions post-leave to bring them back up to speed.”

Parental leave policies should offer information on a range of support to meet a variety of needs and be upheld throughout the organisation to reduce any stigma or anxiety linked to taking it.

Sarah Hesz, co-founder of Bubble, explains: “The best policies account for fertility treatment, adoption, surrogacy, premature birth, pregnancy loss, same sex couples, single parents and [do] not define roles by gender. It’s particularly important not to presume that the mother will always have primary care responsibilities.”

Line manager support is also vital. “One of the many impacts of this provision is better conversations between the individual and their line manager, where shared understanding and clear goals can be identified and appropriate plans put in place for mutual benefit,” says Priest.

Amending and communicating policies

Existing parental policies can be amended to ensure inclusivity and relevancy. Explicitly setting out policies and support for adoptive parents is also crucial to ensure future adoptive parents are aware of their entitlement, both statutory and enhanced, before beginning the adoption process.

“Allowing adoptive parents to have the same amount of leave as any other parent is crucial to parental leave inclusivity, as well as allowing them time off to attend adoption appointments,” Matthews says.

Employers can also show support by ensuring policies such as breastfeeding allowances are written in inclusive language, she adds.

It is important to look at all available communication channels to promote parental leave policies. “Employers should make information accessible, use clear language and consider what will work for sight or hearing-impaired employees,” says Priest. “A variety of styles such as plain text, bullet points, infographics ensure that the key points are easy to identify, attract attention and provide links to more detailed information for the audience to refer to as they need.”

Inclusivity in parental leave is about ensuring that every employee feels included and informed. Promoting what is on offer and making it fully accessible is key to achieving this.