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The State of Gender Equality in Parental Leave

HR Column
E arlier this year, New Zealand's Prime Minister, Jacinda Ardern announced that she would be taking six weeks off for parental leave before her partner Clarke Gayford took on the role of stay-at-home dad. Before the switch, Gayford hosted a fishing documentary series. The news received congratulations and encouragement from former New Zealand Prime Minister Helen Clark, who applauded the couple for demonstrating gender-equality in action.

For her part, Ardern acknowledged the fact that her circumstance is seen as rather novel, but her hope is for an increase in the ability of men and women to make such choices for their families. Ardern is additionally remarkable because aside from being the first female leader in New Zealand to espouse this parenting model in her household, she was also New Zealand's youngest Prime Minister in 150 years when elected to the post in October 2017.

Myths to leave in the past

Adern's decision is noteworthy in that it appears to forgo several stereotypes and myths about professionals and parenting in the workplace, such as:

  • A woman's career ends when she starts a family;
  • It is the woman's job to stay at home with the children;
  • Men do not need parental leave since they don't give birth;
  • Men neither want nor need time to bond with their babies;
  • Men neither want nor need to stay home and raise their children; and,
  • There is no room in the workplace to deal with issues like postpartum depression or anxiety.

An increasing number of men are choosing to stay at home and raise their children. In the United States, according to the National At-Home Dad Network, there could be as many as seven million fathers who are primary caregivers in their households.

The state of parental leave worldwide

Across the globe, employers in different countries offer varying degrees of support to new parents through paid and unpaid parental leave. Different studies and organizations offer sometimes significantly divergent statistics on the amount of paid parental leave offered in various countries. For this article, we have relied upon the statistics published by the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD). This organization is comprised of 37 member countries, and its mission is to promote policies that will improve the economic and social well-being of people around the world.

[Related: Cause and Effect: Why Women Leave the Legal Profession]

In 2016, all OECD countries offered at least 12 weeks' nationwide paid maternity leave, except for the United States. Over half of OECD countries offered paid paternity leave upon the birth of a baby. The chart below illustrates the OECD countries that offer paid maternal and paternal leave. The figures have been rounded up to the nearest whole number, and do not reflect the percentage of full-time pay offered by each country. For example, while some countries offer full pay during parental leave, others may offer a percentage of regular pay.

Parental leave in OECD Countries

Source: oecd.org


According to the United Nations International Children's Emergency Fund (UNICEF), nearly 90 million children under the age of one live in countries that do not offer fathers paid paternity leave. In these countries, employers must take the initiative to offer this benefit.

[Related: The Work-Life Balance Paradox]

China, India, South Sudan, and the United States are among 92 countries with no national policy offering parental leave to fathers upon the birth or adoption of their new children. While the United States offers up to 12 weeks' leave for eligible employees to care for newborns and newly adopted children under the federal Family and Medical Leave Act, this leave is unpaid. Individual companies are free to offer more generous benefits than governmentally mandated minimums, and some do. In 2015, the Virgin Group drew positive attention by offering up to 12 months fully paid leave for eligible moms and dads.

The good news

Generally, more countries are offering increasingly longer periods of job-protected child-related leave to both parents. For example, according to the Australian Government Fair Work Ombudsman, eligible employees who are the primary caregiver of a newborn or adopted child now receive up to 18 weeks' leave paid at the national minimum wage.

Countries offering parental leave as a benefit recognize major health and economic benefits for their employees, including greater employee satisfaction, reduced symptoms of postpartum depression for women, and increased loyalty to the employer.

About the Author

Spiwe L. JeffersonSpiwe L. Jefferson is general counsel of ChristLight Productions Ltd., LLC, Patron Fellow of the American Bar Foundation, and board secretary and legal advisor to The BrandLab. She is a member of the ACC employment and labor, law department management, and litigation sections.


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