Paternity Leave! At a Startup? How?

Some forward-thinking, early-stage companies are leading the way.

Unsurprisingly, startups often struggle to offer basic benefits, due to funding constraints, lack of HR resources and the prevalence of male-dominated tech culture. But not all startups: There are glimmers of hope among the smallest companies, trying to do right by their employees and hoping to rewrite the playbook while staying competitive among top talent.

Small steps, big impact

Kapwing is a California-based startup that has created an editing program for images, GIFs and videos. The company is only a couple of years old, and its founder, Julia Enthoven, had to give paternity leave some serious thought when “a senior engineering candidate asked me about our paternity leave, and suddenly establishing a paternity policy was on the critical path to attracting top talent.” This moment led Enthoven to dive into research mode: interviews with colleagues at other startups, consulting with investors, doing research on parental leave norms in tech (there are none) and consulting with legal counsel to understand the laws in California. The research paid off, and Enthoven was able to take advantage of California’s Paid Family Leave insurance program, which helps smaller companies like Kapwing cover up to 70 percent of an employee’s salary for up to six weeks. Despite being a small startup, Kapwing currently offers four weeks of paid paternal leave to its employees, in addition to four additional weeks of unpaid leave.

Boston-based Help Scout offers help desk solutions to customers, simplifying the process of opening and resolving customer issues. The company offers 12 weeks of parental leave for a primary caregiver who gives birth or adopts a child. Additionally, the company pays for 100 percent of healthcare benefits, freeing up that expense from new parents. Help Scout knows that things don’t just go “back to normal” after leave, so when employees return, they can work remotely, allowing their working style to evolve with their families’ needs.

Dyspatch, based in California and Canada, looked at the parental leave benefits that the Canadian government legally extended its residents, as well as the legal requirements that the state of California had in place, and included them in its own policies. As such, even U.S.-based employees are entitled to continued healthcare coverage while on leave. All employees are given 6 weeks of paid leave and an additional 46 weeks of unpaid leave and parents continue to receive medical and dental insurance coverage while they are on leave. 

Take a non-gendered approach

M.M.Lafleur, a New York-based professional women’s wear company, led by CEO Sarah Lafleur, created a paternity leave policy when a key employee was set to have their first child. In this article, Lafleur describes the process. “It was a dilemma: how do we set an example for how employers should handle parental leave, while also being responsible business owners? Ultimately, we landed on 12 weeks. By American standards, and especially by early-stage startup standards, this was generous. Then again, we were building a company that supports professional women. If we didn’t stand up for a decent maternity leave, who would?” At the beginning, the policy only applied to women, but as they grew, they realized the importance of extending the policy to men employees as well: “It renders every candidate equal.” says Lafleur.

Above and beyond

Stack Overflow, a New York City tech company designed with developers in mind, helps connect over 10 million developers throughout the world to share knowledge and resources. It also has one of the most dynamic and out-of-the-box parental leave benefits programs in the industry. Stack Overflow provides fully paid parental leave for all new parents, with 16 weeks for primary caregivers and 12 weeks for secondary caregivers. Employees returning from parental leave may also choose to return to work part time for up to one year.

On top of offering generous paternal leave benefits, Stack Overflow provides a $500 stipend to order food while employees are on parental leave: The company feels it’s best for new parents to not have to worry about feeding themselves when caring for a new baby.

Heather Peteroy is a copywriter and creative consultant in Seattle, WA.

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