TECH PERKS

Why some Austin tech companies are offering more paid time off for new parents

Posted November 29th, 2017

Soon after starting a new job in product marketing at Austin software company Bazaarvoice, Adri Nowell found out she was pregnant.

Lucky for her, by the time she gave birth to her son Liam in July, Bazaarvoice had decided to add four additional weeks of paid parental leave for new mothers or “primary parents.”

Nowell was able to take 16 weeks off work, about four months, and receive her full salary. Bazaarvoice also offers “secondary parents,” which tend to be fathers, four weeks paid leave following the birth or adoption of a child.

“I didn’t know how valuable it would be until I was actually on leave,” Nowell said, because her son needed hernia surgery when he was three months old. “For me, being able to spend those last four week s at home with him was very, very critical.”

Bazaarvoice is among of a number of Austin-area tech companies that in the past two years have extended the paid leave it offers new parents.

The tech industry is at the forefront of a movement to allow new parents more time at home after the birth or adoption of a child. These companies are motivated by a desire to retain top talent, particularly women, and evolving expectations over how much time off new parents need to care for a child.

“We want to be a family friendly place and we want to make sure we are attracting diverse candidates,” said Ryan Robinson, chief people officer of Bazaarvoice, which employs about 550 people in Austin.

Feedback

Netflix grabbed headlines in 2015 when the streaming video company said it was offering up to a year of paid time off for both mothers and fathers following the birth or adoption of a child.

But Netflix is more the exception than the rule for companies in the technology sector.

The American-Statesman asked for the family leave policies of 21 Austin-area tech employers, ranging from large corporations such as Round Rock-based Dell Technologies to startups like dating and networking app Bumble.

Of the 16 companies that responded, Intel offers the most generous policy of up to 26 weeks paid leave, which includes short-term disability and eight weeks of “bonding time.”

Three companies — IBM, HomeAway and Amazon — offer paid leave for mothers or primary parents of up to 20 weeks, and six companies offered between 16 and 20 weeks of paid time off.

To be eligible to take the maximum amount of leave, most companies require that an employee have been with the company for a certain period of time, usually six months to a year, before taking time off to care for a child.

Company Maternity/Primary Parent Leave Paternity/Secondary Parent Leave
HomeAway Up to 20 weeks Up to 12 weeks
IBM Up to 20 weeks Up to 12 weeks
Amazon Up to 20 weeks* Up to 6 weeks
Apple Up to 18 weeks Up to 6 weeks
Accenture Up to 16 weeks Up to 8 weeks
Bazaarvoice Up to 16 weeks Up to 4 weeks
Bumble Up to 16 weeks Up to 16 weeks
Indeed Up to 16 weeks Up to 6 weeks
RetailMeNot
Up to four months Up to 4 weeks
AMD Up to 12 weeks Up to 8 weeks
uShip Up to 12 weeks Up to 15 days
Intel Up to 8 weeks Up to 8 weeks
Dell Technologies Up to 6 weeks Up to 6 weeks
Charles Schwab Up to 6 weeks Up to 1 week
AT&T Up to 2 weeks Up to 2 weeks
Big Commerce Up to 2 weeks Up to 2 weeks

*According to a survey of employers conducted in November 2017. Some employers may offer additional weeks of time off, either unpaid or through disability programs.

Robinson, with Bazaarvoice, said the company’s decision to add four more weeks to its leave policy came after surveying employees.

“We had been getting feedback, particularly from mothers,” Robinson said. “They appreciated they time off but they wanted it more simplified,” he said, meaning more paid weeks so they didn’t have to take vacation or disability leave.

Parental leave benefits for fathers or secondary caregivers is also becoming more common. Human resources experts said changing attitudes about child-raising responsibilities has helped spur the expansion of this benefit.

Of the 16 companies that responded to the American-Statesman’s query, all offered some form of paid leave for fathers, or “secondary caregivers.” The most amount of time offered to fathers is 16 weeks by Bumble.

Cobbling it together

Companies are not required to offer any paid time off to new parents. 

The Family and Medical Leave Act only mandates that employers offer 12 weeks of leave for the care of a new child — which can be unpaid. New mothers whose employers don’t offer lengthy paid leave policies typically cobble together a few months off by going on short-term disability at a reduced pay, and taking vacation time.

Some states, such as California and New York, have passed laws that require employers to offer paid leave. New York now requires employers to offer 12 weeks of paid time off for new parents. Texas has no such policy.

RELATED: More tech companies are offering unlimited vacation

According to data from the Society for Human Resource Management, 30 percent of employers in 2017 offer paid maternity leave, up from 26 percent in 2016.

Fewer employers, about 26 percent, offer paid leave for fathers or secondary caregivers. On average, employers that did offer paid leave for a new child offered 41 days for maternity leave and 22 days for paternity leave.

Competition for talent and the growth of the tech industry has driven this industry in particular to sweeten its benefits, including paid parental leave, said Scott Grenn,CQ a senior consultant with Mercer, a health and benefits consulting company. 

“There is also a social dynamic,” Grenn said. “A lot of these tech companies are trying to be better corporate citizens.”

While tech companies are on the “leading edge,” Grenn said, other industries, such as financial services, have also started to increase the number of weeks paid time off new parents are given.

Changing times, changing policies

HomeAway is one of several Austin area tech companies that earlier this year changed its family leave policies for new parents to make them more generous. HomeAway is owned by Expedia and employs more than 1,500 people in Austin.

Charles Wagner, who is a senior director of engineering for HomeAway, said he didn’t realize until three months before his daughter was born that he was eligible for up to 12 weeks of paid leave.

Peary PhotographyCharles Wagner, right, with his wife Amanda Wagner and children Willa Wagner, 7 months and Oliver Wagner, 2.

“I heard about the new policy during a meeting and immediately left to call my wife,” Wagner said. “It was an emotional moment, we were so excited about the opportunity to spend quality time with our new daughter.”

He said it was important to him to “completely unplug and invest in my family,” and that he also wanted to set an example for the other engineers in the office by taking nine weeks off.  

RELATED: Why Dell encourages its employees to work from home.

“My advice to everyone is to take advantage of all the paid leave you can — you may never have another opportunity to spend weeks bonding with your family,” he said.

IBM also changed its paid leave policies for new parents this year, going from 12 weeks of paid maternity leave to 20 weeks of paid leave for birth mothers.

The company also offers 12 weeks off for adoptive parents, fathers or secondary caregivers. And IBM offers up to $20,000 for adoption or surrogacy expenses.

“A lot of American households have women who are working and might be the primary or co-breadwinner,” said Barbara Brickmeier, the vice president of benefits for IBM, which employs thousands of people in Austin. Fathers are more involved, and same-sex couples are increasingly adopting or using surrogates, she said.

“We’ve been listening to what our employees have been asking for and what our markets are doing,” Brickmeier said. “We came to the conclusion that families are operating in different ways, so one size doesn’t fit all.”

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