Gates Foundation adjusts their 52-week paid family leave policy

((photo when I was speaking at a national conference, babe in arms, when I returned to work at 50% when he was 4 months old))

When they launched their 52-week parent leave policy in 2015, I was jealous. I had a baby that year, and I didn’t have such a policy at my workplace.

Three years later, they’re adjusting citing challenges to managing talent and back-filling for back-fills. Also, there is “growing evidence” that 6 months is the sweet spot for meeting key on health for infants and for parents’ careers.

I’ve had a few babies, all of whom were born while I was working full-time. Here’s how I handled them:

  • #1 — I was four months pregnant when I started this job. Although *I* knew at the time of my interview and offer that I was pregnant, I did not tell them for a good month into the job. I was not covered by Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA): I hadn’t been on the job for 12 months. This was a public agency, so they certainly wanted to show good will within their limits. I saved, then used, all my sick and vacation time, then took a leap of faith and supplemented with unpaid leave. Total time with babe: 5 months, 1 week. Partner’s time with babe after me: 4 months.
  • #2 —  Between babies, we moved from one city to another and then another. I landed in Portland around 7 months pregnant, interviewed for a job in my maternity suit, got the offer, and stated upon verbally accepting it: “I just wanted to make it clear that I will need to take Family Leave in a couple of months.” My male manager stuttered. I think he even said, “well, let me get back to you.” I was in disbelief: a) he had no idea I was expecting and b) he seemed to be back-pedaling on a job offer! Well, I think it was just shock, and – of course – he wasn’t about to take back the offer (again, this was a public agency, and the discrimination lawsuit would have been pretty awful there). Needless to say, I was 2 for 2 now being uncovered under FMLA. I did not push too hard, knowing I could sacrifice my job, so I came back when they said they needed me back. Total time with babe: 9 weeks. Partner’s time with babe after me: 5 weeks.
  • #3 — OK. By this time, I had a couple of other jobs, and I had landed at a national nonprofit organization. I had been there for a few years already when I announced my next arrival; I had proven my worth and built credibility. They had a generous leave plan, with 3 months paid. I was also working from home a good bit. Even after I went back to work, I was able to work with minimal outside childcare until he was one year old, as he was an excellent and regular napper. I also figured out how to travel with him, securing babysitting on the other end or even bringing him when he was up to 24 months old to some staff meetings in many locations nationwide. Total time with babe: 4 months. Partner’s time with babe after me: 2 months.
  • #4 — With this one, I was with a similar organization as I was with #3, a national nonprofit organization. I had been with them a year almost exactly when I started to labor. I was provided with – again – 3 paid months of leave (!!!). Then, I did something I hadn’t done yet: I went back at the 50% level, which I always said I didn’t want to do. I wasn’t sure how to know what 50% was; I only knew “working” or “not working”. Turns out it was a nice arrangement to ease my way back to work, and it was critical to establish regular hours so officemates knew when to reach me. Total time with babe: 3 full months, then 50% for the next 2 months. Partner’s time with babe, overlapping with my 50%: 3 weeks (he was at the job 1 month before we delivered).

So, now reflecting on my sample experiences here, I do feel like 3 months is definitely not enough. I think at 5 months away from the office, I was starting to worry that the re-entry to the workplace would be tough and I was starting to want for my work-life back.

We’ve had a lot of privilege here: I had a solid full-time job with each kid, and I had a confidence that my job would still be there when I returned; I had a partner who provided additional income (although we do need both incomes to subsist); my partner also took family leave to delay our needs for full-time childcare.

Have you taken leave from work? How much time did or did not work for you? Would you agree with the “mounting evidence” that there is this 6-month sweet spot?