Here in the U.S. over the past few years tech companies have been earning praise in the media for new, more generous parental leave policies. From big companies like Facebook to smaller start-ups, every time a firm announces a flexible and substantive paid leave policy for new parents, commentators cheer. I've done it too.
The latest is Etsy. The marketplace company just announced it's offering all employees -- male and female -- 26 weeks of fully paid leave when a child joins the family. It's a thoughtful, gender-neutral policy designed to counter old stereotypes that keep men from taking advantage of available leave and women from fearing that their new status as mothers will negatively impact their careers.
"We want to support and enable parents, regardless of their gender, to play equal roles in building successful companies and nurturing their families. We believe it fits squarely within Etsy's mission to reimagine commerce in ways that build a more fulfilling and lasting world," wrote Etsy's director of culture and engagement, Juliet Gorman, in a thoughtful Medium post explaining the thinking and research that went into the new policy.
Paid parental leave should be the norm.
All of which is entirely commendable and hopefully a positive example that will nudge other companies to follow suit. But as someone who has lived in Europe for many years, I also feel obliged to point out that in a reasonable world this policy really wouldn't be newsworthy. America is the only place in the developed world -- in nearly the whole world, actually -- where giving a new parent a chance to recuperate and bond with his or her kid without risking poverty and unemployment is going above and beyond.
In fact, the US finds itself in less than esteemed company in it's utter failure to adequately support new parents. Only Lesotho, Swaziland and Papua New Guinea also offer no paid leave.
What about if you compare the U.S. to its peers in the developed world? The results are laughable (in a dark, sad way). In Britain, new moms get 39 weeks at 90 percent pay. I lived in London for years and can personally attest that six-month maternity leaves are standard and year-long breaks are nothing unusual. (And no, my taxes weren't horrendous and I loved the NHS.)
Australians get 18 weeks at minimum wage, which is a whole lot better than nothing. Finland offers an incredible 139 weeks of paid leave (plus these nifty boxes of supplies for newborns). The European average is 40.5 weeks of leave. The International Labour Organization recommends a minimum of 14 weeks paid leave. I could go on, but you can just check out the info for every single country in the world here if you want more details.
It's to Etsy's credit that they seem to recognize that U.S. policy in this area is shamefully out of step with the rest of the world. As board member Fred Wilson notes in a blog post supportively commenting on the new policy: "Etsy is a global company with significant operations in countries with parental leave regulations that are more generous than what exists in the US. It was an important goal of Etsy to align its parental leave policies across the entire organization."
So pointing out the ridiculousness of 26 weeks paid leave being met with hosannas in the U.S. is in no way a criticism of Etsy. It's just offering a bit of global context to put the news into perspective -- and seen that way this really shouldn't be news at all. In a developed country like the U.S. which says it values families and children, decent paid parental leave should have long ago become the norm.