How I Approached My Employer About Paid Leave (and Got It)!
Advocating for paid leave at work can be incredibly intimidating. So I am thrilled to have Courtney Fanning, the Marketing Manager at MojoTech, share her success story here with you. Major kudos to both Courtney and MojoTech on the new, gender-neutral paid family and medical leave policy, and thank you for sharing!
When my husband and I decided we were ready to start a family, my biggest concern wasn’t how we’d manage to adapt to this huge life change or whether we’d be good parents. I was concerned about my job security and maintaining our family’s financial stability. Several months earlier, when we had begun discussing how we would manage the inevitable recalibration of priorities, it became increasingly clear that the support I would need to care for a newborn child, while continuing to develop my career, needed to come from my two largest networks: my family and my employer. There were, however, a few complications with this plan.
NO FMLA, NO HR, BUT STILL A REASON TO HOPE
I work for MojoTech, a software consultancy with less than 50 employees split between two states — meaning both offices are a long ways away from falling under the protection of the FMLA. I am also one of three female employees in total, and while there are a handful of parents in the office, the company’s median employee is still young and childless. Because of this, instituting a formal family leave policy had yet to become a priority. But I had reasons to hold on to hope.
THE OFFICES AT MOJOTECH
My prior two years at the company had seen tremendous growth, not only in business, but also in the maturity of our people, and our processes. While we do not have an HR department, we do have very little hierarchy, an open door policy with our CEO, and the encouragement to use it.
So, as the company began making preparations to close out one year and set our goals for the next, I decided to present MojoTech with an opportunity to take a position on family leave that would further define the kind of company we wanted to be.
A BUNDLE OF NERVES WITH A MISSION
Armed with a hefty document chock full of supporting analysis and research that family leave is as beneficial to our employees as it is to our business, I went into my CEO’s office (sweaty palmed and incredibly nervous) with the mindset that it was part of my job to help build a sustainable and attractive company.
As part of my proposal, I included a summary of our competitors’ policies, reasoning that offering paid family leave would give us the competitive advantage we would need to recruit the best and brightest software developers and strategists in a tight labor market. I affirmed the effect it would have on diversity, recruitment, and retention. I summarized the research stating that the median cost of turnover is 20% of a worker’s annual wages — a hefty sum for a small tech company where salary demands can easily creep into the six-figures.
I included summary after summary of academic research concluding that having a family leave policy is good for business, such as the study done by the Center for Economic and Policy Research, which found that an overwhelming majority of California business owners surveyed said it didn’t affect their company’s performance or profitability — 89% reporting either positive or no negative effects on productivity, turnover (93%), and morale (99%).
Once I had worked through the cost-benefit analysis showing the potential effects to our company’s bottom-line, I moved on to the social studies showing that the female attrition rate at Google dropped by 50% when they increased their partial-pay, three-month maternity policy to a fully-paid, five-months policy. I included research regarding maternal and infant health and the equal importance of paternity leave for both maternal and infant support. I broke down the scientific research on the benefits of breast milk, bonding, and the negative impact poor workplace policies have on a family’s ability to get a child to the slew of doctor’s appointments that must be attended during his/her first year. I talked about the difficulties of pumping in the office. I even included a one-year postpartum timeline.
And no, I did not censor the timeline for the squeamish.
When I began our meeting I could barely look my employer in the eye (my nerves!), but, as I had hoped, my boss was not only open to discussing a proposal for a formal change to our leave policy but also willing to engage in a dialogue about how it could be best implemented to satisfy both business and employee needs. He asked clarifying questions about the research presented as well as my personal experiences. Did I really think a leave policy would help with diversity? Did women really look at whether a company has a leave policy before applying? (Answer: You bet we do, but we certainly don’t have the luxury of choice since most companies either do not make this information public or we are simply forced to accept that not having a policy at all is the disturbing status quo in this country.) My boss was most intrigued by the statistic that more than 80% of men and women in the U.S. have children — making it hard to minimize as simply a “lifestyle choice”.
As we wrapped up our conversation, we circled back to my suggested proposal and I was reminded that MojoTech is still a small company. We have to look at whether we have the capabilities to manage such a benefit financially and with regard to administration logistics. It was also important to my boss that if instituted, the policy is gender-neutral–an equal opportunity benefit for all employees.
COURTNEY AND HER HUSBAND, JACK
THE GREAT NEWS
I am pleased to say that as of January 2017, all MojoTech employees, regardless of gender or household structure, are eligible to take six weeks of paid leave for family or personal medical reasons, and an additional six weeks, unpaid, if a new child is joining the family. This is in addition to our trust-based time off and flexible work-from-home policies. I am also working with my colleagues to create a comfortable and private room for women to pump breastmilk upon their return to work, if that is what they choose to do.
I applaud MojoTech for making a significant and highly progressive update to its benefits plan. But what impressed me most, and made me proud to be a part of this company, was the way in which MojoTech handled my proposal to implement a formal family leave policy.
I am grateful to work for a company that is thoughtful about its growth, as well as its culture, that acknowledges its employees as human beings with lives and families outside the office, and wants people to want to work at our company. If there are ways MojoTech can help employees remain productive and satisfied members of the team, they understand the value in trying to do so.
Even if all my efforts were for naught, I would still encourage others to act. I encourage you to look over and pass on The Breeding Ground guides, which can help you advocate for better, family-supportive workplace policies and laws, get accessible preschool initiatives on the ballot, or even help you and your partner plan your leave and support strategies before your baby arrives. Having access to knowledge and support is something every family deserves.
Bio: Courtney is the Marketing Manager at MojoTech, a software design and development consultancy headquartered in Providence, Rhode Island. Prior to working in the tech industry, Courtney worked for several major book and magazine publishers where she managed campaign and audience development strategies for numerous high profile authors and brands. Originally from Seattle, Washington, her graduate studies pulled her to the east coast where she earned an M.S. in Print & Digital Media from NYU under the Bantam Publishing Studies Fellowship. As a nod to her roots, she enjoys socks with sandals when she can get away with it. Courtney and her husband, Jack, are expecting their first child in May 2017 and utilizing the family leave policy she spearheaded.
Photos courtesy of Courtney Fanning / MojoTech