Is Your Parental Leave Policy Planting Seeds of Doubt?

September 28, 2023

Is Your Parental Leave Policy Planting Seeds of Doubt?

“Where do you see yourself in five years?”

It’s a popular question asked in job interviews. While the intention may be to gain insight on a candidate’s career ambitions, the question wades into some sensitive territory, particularly for aspiring parents.  

Each time I’ve been asked this question by a prospective employer, my mind’s been flooded with heavy thoughts about my deepest dreams… and fears. The result is an awkward non-answer that I hope will keep the conversation moving without revealing too much of my personal ambitions. Because although an individual’s personal and professional lives are tightly woven together, we’ve all been trained to pretend otherwise (at least in job interviews).  

For that very reason, I never asked about maternity leave policies while being considered for a job, even though having that information would be critical to my ultimate choice to accept an offer. I’m not alone in this prioritization of an employer’s benefits; 83% of American millennials are more likely to join a company offering paid parental leave.  

Leave Policies Largely Driven by Culture, Values

Because the U.S. is one of the few countries in the world without a mandated national paid family leave policy, employers’ decisions around maternity and paternity leave compensation are generally driven by culture and values. In some cases, this is tremendous. In others, not so much.  

When I first joined my current employer in 2018, there were no maternity nor paternity leave programs. A family-owned bank with locations throughout Iowa, the financial institution relied mainly on the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) and accrued supplemental leave to guide decisions around leave and compensation. There was no values-centric framework for helping the bank’s parents-to-be navigate tough decisions between the health and wellness and their incomes.  

My spirit, as an optimistic young professional eager to experience the “real world,” was a bit crushed as I watched colleagues struggle to stockpile their paid time off (PTO), missing special life moments so they could one day soon care for their newest addition and themselves. It was confusing for me, especially because every other experience I was having at the bank was 100-percent people-centered. We brought our best to work; we enabled great things for each other and our clients; we thought BIG when it came to tough issues. Why was this outdated approach to work-life balance still in play at this otherwise progressive company?  

Seeds of Doubt Take Root among Ambitious Employees

I couldn’t help it… here I was again, imagining myself five years down the road. As enjoyable as my workdays had become, what sacrifices might I have to make as a future mom down the road?  

Witnessing my colleagues’ struggles began to plant seeds of doubt. I was growing surer by the day that I would likely need to change companies when I wanted to start my own family. I also wondered how many other young people in my position across the state were thinking the same thing. Did Iowa employers realize what they stood to lose; did employees? Moving companies is not an easy thing to do, especially when you’re leaving behind a great environment that is not only challenging but gives meaning to your professional life.  

Lucky for me, I won’t have to make this difficult choice after all. I’m happy to report that this month, my employer made a meaningful change that not only plucked those seeds of doubt from my own mind but set our company up to be an employer of choice in each of the 23 Iowa communities we serve.  

Owning It. Changing It.

On the heels of a pandemic that reshaped everything we know about work-life balance (not to mention a pregnancy boom at the bank), my employer made a big announcement. They had reviewed the existing policy and found it totally out of alignment with our values. They owned it. Then, they changed it.  

In a month known for celebrating motherhood, Bank Iowa rolled out a new paid parental leave program that includes twelve weeks paid maternity leave and four weeks paid leave for any secondary caregivers on our team. Unlike most parental leave policies, ours allows team members to use the benefit without pulling from earned PTO. This is so important, given a healthy pregnancy involves an average of 99 hours at the doctor across 20 appointments.  

The new program follows in the footsteps of the bank’s pandemic PTO and family care compensation initiative, which our board and executives launched in March 2020. The program allowed team members to pull from additional paid leave when a team member was experiencing COVID symptoms or had trouble finding childcare with schools and daycares shut down.  

Because you’re reading this in a major metro that is home to big employers with global resources, you may not find our new policy to be all that progressive. It may not be flashy, but it’s quite literally life-changing for the 270+ team members who have grown Bank Iowa from a humble one-location shop in Clarinda to a $2 billion financial institution that remains family owned and community centered.  

Consider how your company’s own parental leave policy can evolve from a check-the-boxes benefit to a competitive edge for candidates looking at a work-life more critically than ever before. We all see the headlines around labor shortages; many of you are working hard to fill gaps left by open positions. Is your parental leave policy telling the right story to attract the heavy hitters in your area (or outside your area)?  

As all Iowa employers seek to build competitive, growth-oriented workforces, the values of younger generations like millennials and Gen Z must be considered. Both groups intentionally seek out places of employment that prioritize equality in salary, extensive parental leave and flexible working hours. If a company’s values don’t align with their employees values, candidates will simply go elsewhere.  

“Where do you see yourself in five years?” Rather than focusing on how a candidate’s answer can benefit your company, consider shifting your mindset to how that answer drives change within your culture. Enhancements to parental leave is probably just the start of ways in which your company can evolve to become an employer of choice within your own Iowa community.