5 tips to help startups build an inclusive parental leave policy

Parent

We call it the “diversity question” at Borrowell. It’s the question that we ask all our candidates in interviews: “What does diversity mean to you?” We ask it because we’re interested in the answer—and also to signal, right from the start, that we’re serious about building and sustaining a diverse team.

It’s not enough for tech companies to say diversity is a priority. If you scan the news in Canada, it’s clear that, as a country, we’re great at talking about diversity but we struggle to actually create inclusive workspaces. At Borrowell, diversity is one of our key values. It makes us stronger. When we surround ourselves with people who think differently than we do, it creates a culture of innovation and a healthy amount of tension. Research by McKinsey shows that companies with more diverse workforces perform better financially.

It’s best to be incremental and create something small that you can build on over time.
 

In order to attract diverse candidates, companies need to put the right policies in place to get them excited about it! We want to attract people at all stages of life and it’s one of the reasons we’ve created an LGBTQ+ friendly parental leave policy. As a lesbian and a new mom, I know from personal experience that these policies are not always inclusive. We’re committed to offering support to parents when they welcome a child into their lives, and feel our policy reflects that.

I get a lot of questions about the policy and wanted to share some advice on how we created and implemented it at Borrowell. Hopefully, sharing this advice will encourage others to think about their own policies and we can change the tech landscape for the better through action.

Create an inclusive policy – or don’t create one at all

This is one of the pitfalls of traditional parental leave policies. Most use gendered language and don’t account for all the different ways to create a family in modern life.

It’s why the policy must extend beyond the birthing parent. Becoming a parent can happen in many different ways, each of which will affect employees differently. Becoming a parent is a huge adjustment and the policy needs to reflect the values of the company.

For example, our policy is genderless. It’s available to all eligible new parents, of both biological and adopted children, regardless of the gender of the parents and of the parent’s relationship with any co-parent.

Create the policy before it is needed

Many companies, especially in tech, treat creating a parental leave policy with a “we’ll cross that bridge when we get there” mentality. This is not ideal for a few reasons:

  • The policy may be perceived as individual to one employee. Then the policy becomes “Larissa’s Policy.”
  • It can potentially cause hard feelings. The employee may think, “Is this all I’m worth to this company?”
  • You may miss out on great candidates who want to join a company has a parental leave policy, or lose existing employees to a company that already has a policy in place.

The answer is to create the policy before someone needs it. This leads us to my next piece of advice…

Stop talking about it and just do it

So you want to create an LGBTQ+ parental leave policy for your startup. Well, that’s great – now do it! It seems as though many companies are spending too much time talking about developing their leave policies and not implementing them.

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It’s best to be incremental and create something small that you can build on over time. It’s important to do the market research because the policy must be sustainable as your company scales.

As a small (but growing) company, we had to be careful when creating the policy to ensure we would be able to handle a few people taking parental leave at once. Of course, it’s our first iteration, and like most things, it’s a living document that will change over time.

Encourage your team to be open and share experiences

This comes back to the importance of having a diverse team. People can’t be what they can’t see. It’s up to us to be the leaders. While it might be slightly uncomfortable (and that’s a good thing), it’s important for people to be open so others can understand what they’re going through.

We encourage all parents, regardless of how your family was created, to share stories and to be someone that others can look up to. The flip side of this is that we encourage employees to be forthcoming with their situations.

Some companies support LGBTQ+ employees to become parents by allocating funds towards fertility treatments. By having a policy like this in place, you may be helping people with fertility issues who you didn’t know needed support. When others know what’s going on in your life, it’s much easier to be understanding and accommodating.

Ask someone in the LGBTQ+ community

You don’t know what you don’t know. But you can learn by asking someone in the LGBTQ+ community for help. There are many considerations that you might not be thinking about if you’re not a part of the community. Don’t be afraid to reach out to someone in the community and ask them to look over the policy. Doing so will help ensure the language and content are as inclusive as possible.

In creating the policy, the last thing you want to do is miss something, or worse, potentially exclude people. Of course, one person doesn’t represent an entire community. But at least try to get some input to guide your company’s decision making.

A final word

We’re proud to have a policy in place but there’s always be work to be done. There are many others in tech doing amazing things, such as HackerYou founder and CEO Heather Payne, who is vocal about the need for parental policies in startups; and Anna Mackenzie and Ella Gorevalov, who penned The Expecting Playbook. The Toronto tech community came together to share their parental policies in this fantastic resource, which we looked to in creating our own policy.

Creating an inclusive work environment and a diverse team isn’t easy. But it will help you attract candidates from all stages of life with fresh perspectives to promote a healthy company culture. Because who wants to work with a bunch of people that all think the same, anyway?

Photo via Unsplash

Larissa Holmes

Larissa Holmes

Larissa is the Head of People Operations at Borrowell, a leading Canadian fintech that helps Canadians make great decisions about credit. With over 10 years of experience leading people and operations teams, Larissa is passionate about investing in people to achieve growth and creating diverse company cultures. Larissa has a wealth of professional experiences prior to joining the Borrowell team, ranging from leading the customer development function at a HR technology startup, to working as a management consultant at Deloitte. She is based in Toronto with her wife and daughter.