The XX Factor

Spotify Took Major Action on Paid Parental Leave. Now, It’s America’s Turn.

Spotify CEO Daniel Ek in New York City on May 20, 2015.

Photo by Andrew Burton/Getty Images

Today, Spotify announced an ample new paid-leave plan for working parents. Any full-time Spotify employee can now take up to six months of 100 percent paid leave, either all at once or split into three sections, from 60 days before their child’s arrival to the child’s third birthday. All parents are included under the plan, including parents who adopt or use a surrogate, and employees who had children between the beginning of 2013 and now can take their leave retroactively.

Spotify’s release lists “gender equality” among the reasons why company leadership chose to enact the new policy. This rationale correlates with an argument made in a recent Bloomberg piece on what it calls a “parental leave arms race” among elite tech corporations trying to keep employees on board. Paternity leave, Rebecca Greenfield writes, is as rare as it is crucial to workplace gender equity:

Working moms already face what’s called “the wage penalty for motherhood,” a phrase used by sociologist Michelle Budig in her research showing that a woman’s earnings decrease by 4 percent with each additional child. New mothers without paid leave tend to drop out of the workforce, as many studies have found, and the longer they remain out of work, the more it hurts their careers. Yet the average mother takes two months more time off than the average dad, who takes only two weeks off, according to a 2014 study from the Boston College Center for Work & Family. A study from last year found 86 percent of men said they would take paternity leave, as long as they received at least 70 percent of their normal salary.

Only 11 percent of U.S. workers have formal paid family leave coverage according to employer data in a 2014 White House report, though 39 percent of workers report being able to take some kind of paid leave after the birth of a child. Most of the companies that have paid leave policies concentrate on the medical necessity of time off for women who’ve gone through labor. According to the Society for Human Resource Management, just 17 percent of employers surveyed say they offer paid paternity leave.

Spotify’s gender-blind parental leave policy mirrors recent steps taken by tech companies like Amazon, Netflix, and Microsoft to make their companies more attractive in a competitive employment market. At today’s Spotify announcement in New York, White House senior adviser Valerie Jarrett said the United States’ lack of federal paid leave saddles us with a handicap in the global marketplace, too, as one of just three nations without such a policy.

Barack Obama’s administration has been the big political mover behind several U.S. advancements in paid leave in recent months. Sidestepping a Congress that’s unwilling or unable to tackle the issue, the Labor Department is issuing $2 million in grants to state and local governments to support family-leave legislation that could provide models for the country at large. Last month, with the help of $96,000 in Labor Department cash, two members of the Washington, D.C., city council put forth a plan that may provide 16 weeks of paid leave for every working D.C. resident.

Paid family leave has made a few brief appearances in the 2016 presidential race: Marco Rubio has distinguished himself as the only Republican with a (barely-there, unlikely-to-work) paid-leave plan, and Hillary Clinton has called out the GOP for its hypocrisy on using government intervention for Planned Parenthood instead of paid leave. But the topic is a non-starter in the current Republican-controlled Congress.

Today, the Center for American Progress released a new report that sketches out a few possible options for federal paid family and medical leave programs based on what’s worked in other countries, including employer-funded plans, social insurance programs, and federally funded plans. Most private businesses are loath to provide this kind of benefit on their own; for the sake of our country’s economy and the health of the American worker, political leaders need to take some kind of decisive action. For now, for every parent who’s not lucky enough to work at a wealthy tech company, anything is better than nothing.