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When Chelsea Minkler and her husband, Aaron Acklen, decided to start a family, the Kirkland couple had something many new parents don’t: a guarantee that Minkler, a program officer at the Gates Foundation, would be able to take a year off—at her full pay—to be with their new baby, Nora, who was born in late 2016. “We feel incredibly fortunate,” Minkler says.
The Gates Foundation is especially generous with its family leave benefit, but it’s also part of a trend. More and more employers are stepping up their parental leave and other family-friendly policies, including Bank of America (16 weeks paid time off, adoption reimbursement, back-up child care), Zillow (16 weeks paid maternity leave; eight weeks paid paternity leave), Limeade (15 days paid parental leave, 95 days job-protected maternity leave, 60 days job-protected paternity leave). Recently, the City of Seattle increased its paid parental leave benefits to eight weeks—with an additional four weeks of vacation or sick leave—making it one of the most progressive cities in the country with respect to parental leave.
Impressively, last year, Washington became one of only five states in the nation to mandate paid time off for the birth of a child. Starting in 2020, new parents are guaranteed 12 weeks of paid leave. While paid leave for childbirth and adoption is standard in most Western countries, it isn’t in the U.S. In fact, the Pew Research Center reports that out of 41 countries studied, including Estonia, Latvia and Mexico, the U.S. is the only country that does not mandate paid leave. A number of countries offer paid leave of more than a year.
The new Washington law is a “model for the nation and a monumental victory for Washington families, small businesses, and our economy,” wrote Kristin Rowe-Finkbeiner in a blog post on the MomsRising website, for which she is CEO and executive director. The national online organization has more than 40,000 members in Washington state. “The members of MomsRising have fought for more than a decade to advance this policy, which is a powerful blueprint for other states around the country to follow.” It’s a big win for families, achieved by organizations like MomsRising that worked tirelessly for years to get the law passed.
Few employers, however, are matching what the Gates Foundation offers: up to 52 weeks of continuous paid time off during the first year of a child’s birth or adoption (for both moms and dads); 100 percent payment for the cost of health coverage for employees and their dependents; no out-of-pocket costs for the birth of a child.
At the Gates Foundation, both men and women take full advantage of the parental leave benefit. “As a professional woman, I’m glad to see that there is no gender issue; dads are taking leave, too,” Minkler says. “All employees are encouraged to do so, and it is assumed they will. And while you are out, your career track doesn’t freeze. I was reviewed and promoted while on leave.”