This week, I was proud to join Sima Sistani, founder of group messaging app Houseparty, in a public campaign to increase visibility for and support paid family leave.
As mentioned in her op-ed in Fortune, Sima is collaborating with Paid Leave for the U.S. (PL+US) to kick off #LeadersforLeave, a campaign to urge Silicon Valley founders, executives, and venture capitalists to provide paid leave to their employees, no matter how early stage their startup is.
Growing up in Germany, paid family leave was no special privilege. Working moms in Germany get more than a year of paid maternity leave. Naturally, the idea that time spent with family--whether to bond with a new baby or take care of a sick family member--was the rule rather than an exception.
In 2014, my (also German) co-founder Simon and I founded Shippo in San Francisco. For the first time, we navigated the twists and turns of starting our own company, including setting up employee benefits and leave policies. Needless to say, we were shocked to learn that there was no federally-mandated leave for new parents in the United States. We knew from the get-go that we wanted to make adequate paid family leave a cornerstone of our employment policies.
Although the prevalence of paid parental leave is increasing, larger organizations are considerably more likely to offer this benefit than smaller ones. And still, the total companies that offer paid maternity leave are still very low, at 35 percent, an increase from 26 percent in 2016, according to the Society for Human Resource Management.
This year, Shippo turned five years old. Without any doubt, paid leave has made a positive impact on the scaling efforts and retention at our company. It's helped us to:
Attract and Retain a Diverse Set of Candidates
A good parental leave policy can support people in all stages of their lives. Getting the "best" candidates really means getting candidates at all stages of life.
With a lean team, it is just as critical for us to fill junior roles as it is to fill roles with more experienced, senior hires. With female candidates, providing paid family leave means that a junior hire will choose a company that she can picture a long future with--whether she chooses to have a family or not. For a new mom, it means she would want to stay with the company throughout her maternity leave and feel comfortable returning to a welcoming environment. And even after that, generous leave policies mean that team members can take time off to care for aging loved ones.
With paid family leave, we are able to attract and retain candidates who are demographically diverse and who have a breadth of perspective and experience. That's key, since diverse companies are 45 percent more likely to report growing market share year-over-year and are 70 percent more likely to report capturing a new market, according to the nonprofit think tank Center for Talent Innovation.
Extending leave policies for new parents engenders loyalty and retention. Google, for example, decreased attrition among new mothers by 50 percent by increasing leave to 18 weeks, from 12. Google also increased paternity leave to 12 weeks, from seven.
Reinforce a Strong and Respectful Company Culture
These days, the conversation about "work-life balance" has evolved (somewhat) so that people understand balance can be a constantly evolving goal and mean different things at different times. Paid family leave can support exactly that. It gives people the time and space to evaluate evolving goals. This makes smart business sense by improving employee retention and preserving the countless dollars that are lost when people quit and need have to be replaced. Paid leave correlates to more productive individuals and better teammates.
So while just 12 percent of working Americans have access to paid parental leave, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the tech industry may be at the forefront of changing that.