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The Benefits and Limits of Parental Perks in the Workplace

This summer, Netflix, Microsoft Corp., Adobe Systems Inc., and Blackstone Group LP all extended their parental leave policies in an effort to increase diversity and stay competitive as employers. KKR & Co. joined this growing list and launched an unexpected travel benefit for new parents. According to Bloomberg Business, the private equity firm promised to “fly a child and caretaker, provide a hotel room and pay for meals on business trips until the baby’s first birthday.”

This new policy has been received as an important step, indicating positive change for parents in the United States, particularly those working in private equity and investment banking. However, Jennifer Owens, the editorial director of Working Mother magazine voiced concern that the perk may make it harder for women with young children to opt-out of travel. She told the Washington Post that “the best companies who do it are trying to keep those trips and travel to the minimum.”

Anne Weisburg, a senior vice president at the Family and Work Institute, also acknowledged the benefits and potential limits of policies like KKR & Co’s. In a New York Times op-ed, she brought attention to a larger cultural issue around leadership and caregiving:

“We need to reimagine leadership so that the ideal workers are not the ones who stay at work the latest, but the ones who get all their work done and leave at a reasonable hour; they are not the ones who get on a plane on a moment’s notice, even with a nanny in tow, but the ones who figure out how to conduct the meeting without having to travel.”

Weisburg points to a Bain & Co. survey to support her argument. Among a group of over 1,000 men and women from every stage of their career, 60% of agreed that “maintaining a high profile in the organization, and an unwavering commitment to long hours and constant work” were the most important characteristics for promotion. This “ideal worker” model fails to leave room for a leader who also acts as a caregiver at home, limiting the ability of many women to ascend to senior leadership positions. To create genuine change, Weisburg suggests that “we need a new archetype of the ideal worker that is not anchored in gender and reflects the multiple roles that employees play in all spheres of their lives.”