The Beauty of Coca-Cola's New Parental Leave Policy

"Paid parental leave isn't just a nice thing to do, it's the smart thing to do for our business."


Coca-Cola this week announced a massive expansion of its parental-leave policy for non-union U.S. employees. The new policy covers not just female employees who give birth but dads, adoptive parents, and foster parents, all of whom will be entitled to six weeks paid leave. Biological mothers will be entitled to the six weeks parental leave plus six to eight weeks of short-term disability leave following the birth of a child. The new policy goes into effect January 1, 2017.

"Fostering an inclusive workplace means valuing all parents—no matter their gender or sexual orientation," said Ceree Eberly, Coke's "chief people officer," in a statement. "We think the most successful way to structure benefits to help working families is to make them gender-neutral and encourage both moms and dads to play an active role in their family lives."

Opening parental leave to all genders and sexual orientations will hopefully help combat the penalty new moms can face for taking maternity leave, the company says. "While lengthy maternity leave policies have helped some companies retain female talent, the lack of female senior executives has remained," it notes. "By removing gender from the equation and offering all new parents the same amount of paid leave, Coca-Cola hopes to combat bias and help pave the way for more women in leadership positions."


So why should anyone outside Coca-Cola care about this change? Because the move comes at a time of increased pressure for cities, states, and the federal government to impose mandatory paid family leave requirements on private businesses. And this idea is predicated on the view that businesses won't adapt on their own accord. But Coca-Cola's new policy comes not from top-down regulations but movement within the organization, driven by millennial employees.

"Internal surveys and external research highlighted the value [millennials] place on parental leave and revealed that the average age of first-time, college-educated parents is 30—also the median age of Coke's current and prospective Millennial employees," the company reports. "Millennials will account for more than half of the global Coca-Cola system workforce by 2020. "Paid parental leave isn't just a nice thing to do, it's the smart thing to do for our business," said 27-year-old Katherine Cherry, one of five millennial employees who worked with Coke's HR team on the new parental leave policy.

Just like employers began offering health insurance last century in order to attract top talent, big companies these days are increasingly realizing the value from a business perspective of offering flexible work arrangements and parental leave benefits. Major employers to recently expand their parental leave policies include Bank of America, Credit Suisse, Facebook, Microsoft, Amazon, Etsy, Netflix, and J.P. Morgan and, according to the Society for Human Resource Management, the number of large U.S. corporations that at least offer paid maternity leave jumped from 12 percent in 2014 to 21 percent in 2015.