When Brett Feldman’s daughter was born, his company gave him a gift that was better than anything on the baby registry: 16 weeks of paid parental leave.
“It gave me a chance to experience my daughter’s first few months of life,” says Brett, who works at Ernst & Young LLP in New York City. “Seeing her roll over and babble and start to interact with the world—I will have those memories forever.”
EY is a founding sponsor of Working Mother’s Best Companies for Dads, an inaugural list based on criteria such as number of weeks of paid paternity leave (given, as well as taken), availability of employee-resource groups for dads, and reimbursement for fertility, surrogacy and adoption expenses. EY, who is one of the 35 companies that made the list, introduced its generous 16-week parental-leave policy in 2016; it’s available to men and women welcoming a child through birth, adoption, surrogacy, foster care or legal guardianship. Prior to that, they offered just six weeks for fathers. Since then, there have been more than 100 dads who have taken the full 16 weeks, according to Armando Diaz, human resources supervising associate at the company.
Brett—who took his first two weeks immediately following the baby’s birth and the remainder once his wife, who works in the fashion industry, returned to work after her eight weeks of leave—describes it as a “game changer.”
“It gave me the opportunity to experience being a dad,” says the transaction advisory services manager. “I was entirely unplugged, I had no corporate work responsibilities.” It helped that the corporate culture at his firm was so supportive. "There is a tremendous amount of respect for the parental-leave policy, and senior leadership makes clear employees should take advantage of it—and enjoy it.”
While Brett and his daughter bonded deeply during those first few months, his wife benefited as well. “Initially she felt that she might stop working,” Brett says. “Until we decided for sure, there was a comfort in knowing that I would be home and she would be able to go back and see if she was still interested in her job,” he explains. His ability to take leave lessened the likelihood of her offramping and potentially losing career trajectory.
Another founding sponsor, Unilever, also received the honor of being one of Working Mother’s Best Companies for Dads. Senior engineer Frank Mieles was granted eight weeks of parental leave to care for his baby, even though he had only been at the company for a few months. But the benefits didn’t end there: He now works flexible hours so he can stay home with his 1-year-old daughter one day a week. “When I was looking for jobs, one of the reasons I was drawn to Unilever was work-life balance,” says Frank, who’s based in New York City.
He recounts how he and his wife tried to determine what would be best for their family after she gave birth: “We were going to put the baby into daycare and were deciding between three, four or five days,” he says. A nurse practitioner, his wife was able to stay home one day a week, but without pay. Frank, on the other hand, was able to come up with a solution without impacting his bottom line: “I worked with my manager—who was very supportive—to come up with a plan to stay home on Fridays by extending my hours during the week.”
Frank works longer hours Monday through Thursday, and fewer hours on Friday. On that day he gets up “very early” and works from home before his wife heads off to her nursing shift. This allows him to be fully present with his daughter in the afternoon while also avoiding the additional expense of childcare. “This flexibility has allowed us to work through the transition of my wife and I both going back to work and seeing how we could make this work long-term,” he says.
At founding sponsor and fellow list-maker RSM, there’s no official policy defining flexibility, according to Kim Bartok, their national public relations manager. Still, the company prides itself on a long-standing commitment to it. Father of five and principal in RSM’s risk advisory services group, Charles Barley Jr. of McClean, VA, experiences that firsthand.
“I take advantage of the flexibility policies by encouraging work-life integration among my team members,” Charles says. “I also feel confident that my colleagues will support me and help out when I need to focus on the home front.”
He adds that it’s been especially helpful with boys at different stages of life. “My oldest is a high-school senior and I have needed to step away and take him all up and down the East Coast for various college visits,” he says. “My youngest are 6-year-old twins and I have been able to attend various doctor appointments and school conferences.”
According to Bartok, that flexibility includes “time off to relax and recharge, flexible work hours and locations, reduced work schedules, leaves of absence for an employee to attend to their own or immediate family member’s medical condition, and parenting leave to spend with growing family,” she says.
Financial Support for Surrogacy
Founding sponsor MetLife launched its Surrogacy Assistance Program in 2017, which reimburses employees up to $5,000 per year, per child, for surrogacy-related expenses. “There is a growing recognition that there are different ways in which families are constructed and how they operate,” says associate general counsel Jonathan A. Damon.
Although the surrogacy benefit was not yet available at the time Jonathan and his husband welcomed their first child, Jonathan was one of the first employees to recommend that MetLife offer such a benefit, effectively starting the conversation to implement the policy.
“I was also one of the first officers to take eight weeks of parental leave as a primary caregiver, and I received excellent support from the company and my colleagues,” he says, adding that he is preparing to take a similar leave to welcome his second son.
The key to employee happiness, he says, is realizing that people want to be involved in their children’s lives in a way that a traditional 9-to-5 framework does not always allow. And flexibility is just the first step. “There needs to be a cultural shift as executives, managers, team members and colleagues understand and appreciate that the activities of fatherhood don’t just need to be accommodated, but rather, celebrated.”