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How Etsy's Parental Leave Announcement Demonstrates Generosity At Work

For so many reasons, Etsy has been one of my leading examples of companies practicing Generosity At Work. 

I rely on Etsy’s Code As Craft initiative to illustrate the strategy of Opening Your Learning, but that’s only one way that Etsy demonstrates an expanded culture of generosity. Etsy uses each of the five higher-level generosity strategies, as well as over two dozen specific generosity practices. And, sometimes with one move, Etsy demonstrates several generosity practices at the same time.

That’s the case with Etsy’s new Parental Leave Policy, announced last week in a blog post by Juliet Gorman, the Director of Culture and Engagement at Etsy: “Strong Families, Strong Business: A Step Forward in Parental Leave at Etsy”.

In addition to demonstrating the strategy of Promoting Your Unique Culture, the policy and its announcement demonstrate the generosity practices of Networked Citizenship and Industry & Marketplace Advocacy.  

Here’s how:

Generosity Strategy:  Promoting Your Unique Culture

Etsy’s revised Parental Leave policy is a generously conceived and well-designed effort that strengthens Etsy itself, sets a standard that other similar companies should follow, and aims to influence the conversation about family leave in our society. 

The details of the policy are all wonderful. 26 weeks at full pay is generous, period. The policy is open to biological, adoptive and surrogate parents, of any gender expression or family status, regardless of the country in which they reside. It’s about as inclusive as you could imagine.  Some of the 6 months of paid leave must be taken as a chunk of 8 consecutive weeks so that parents get the maximum psychological benefit of the leave, while other time can be taken in a flexible distribution.   

Etsy promotes its unique culture through the original announcement and a companion piece, 5 Facts That Support Gender-Blind Parental Leave.   Etsy offers the details of its new policy as all as the data supporting its decision to advocate that other companies follow Etsy’s lead. (Recall that I’ve talked about Promoting Your Culture before, using the example of Buffer and its efforts to promote radical transparency and the distributed (aka remote) workforce.)

While it’s certainly true that this new policy will help to keep Etsy competitive in a marketplace where it’s hard to find software engineering talent, its also true that it fits with Etsy’s core values and with Etsy’s vision of the company it wants to be. This generosity towards employees reinforces Etsy’s unique identity.

Generosity Practice: Networked Citizenship

Promoting its Parental Leave policy also helps Etsy remain a leading citizen of its business network.  By proactively taking responsibility for steering the growth and development of behavior in its network, Etsy’s policy reinforces the efforts of other pioneering digital businesses who already announced generous parental leave policies (such as Spotify). 

Especially because Etsy has a public profile that’s much bigger than its actual size (still less than 820 employees), throwing its energy behind Parental Leave -- 

  • Draws attention to parental leave policies at digital companies,
  • Pulls in a broader business audience (e.g., this Time article), and
  • Strengthens the perceived legitimacy of these policies.

Etsy’s efforts are helping its network shift perceptions of its parental leave policies (and “great place to work” reputations) so that these are not ‘exceptional’ within its industry, but normal to the network.

Generosity Practice: Industry & Marketplace Advocacy

But the part I like best, and where Etsy is demonstrating a rare form of generosity at work, is revealed in the final paragraph of the formal announcement:

We (at Etsy) believe parental leave policies like ours are just one step towards a more fulfilling, lasting world. Our policy is premised on the traditional employer-employee relationship in the U.S. We applaud the efforts of leaders like New York Governor Andrew Cuomo, who has proposed a paid family leave program for all workers in the state, similar to programs in California, New Jersey, Rhode Island, Washington, and Washington, DC. We’re also mindful that many Etsy sellers are independently employed, like more and more workers today, which is why we advocate for portable benefits.

Our hope is that policy makers and future business leaders find a way to provide a stable and flexible safety net for all people.  You can read more about the research that informed our decision in our companion post: 
5 Facts That Support Gender-Blind Parental Leave.

With this final paragraph, Etsy is proactively advocating for an approach to parental leave that it believes is good for the economy as a whole.

That's giving big.

Etsy is expressing its values AND practicing generosity by taking a stand that paid parental leave helps everyone, and thus should be universal.

Here’s more, from the companion post mentioned on the Etsy blog (below), where Gorman notes:

At Etsy, we’re working to be a diverse and inclusive company. In sharing our thinking, we hope to advance the conversation among our community  including our employees, business peers, other corporate leaders and policymakers  to build a business culture that’s more enriching and sustainable for everyone. (emphasis mine)

Etsy ties its Parental Leave policy to a much larger mission and purpose.  By promoting its own unique culture, Etsy is generously advocating for something that will benefit every company and every worker in the USA.

Well done, Etsy.


On a Related Note:   (here's the extra newsletter section:)

I believe that parental leave, like health insurance, should not be attached to a person’s job or place of employment. We should encourage companies to provide leave while we advocate for universal paid parental leave, as well as universal child care. And, we need to encourage companies of any size and any industry to offer parental leave in whatever capacity they can.

That’s why I was surprised to see this statement, by Fred Wilson of Union Square Ventures (USV), an early investor in Etsy and now a board member. 

I fully support Etsy’s parental leave policy and am proud that Etsy is at the forefront of a movement in the tech industry for more family friendly employee policies.

However, I am not suggesting that all startups or all USV backed startups should do the same.

There’s a vast gap between “a workforce in the thousands or tens of thousands” and the “team of four people working from a co-working space” that Wilson uses to anchor the size of companies that can and can’t offer parental leave. Companies don’t have to have thousands -- or even hundreds- of employees to find ways to offer paid parental leave. 

Remember how, just a year ago,  Mary Ellen Slater shared how her small startup managed to give employees parental leave, and Sara Holoubek of Luminary Labs wrote about planning for her own parental leave?  Rethink those excuses, people.

Two perspectives on Family Leave Policy worth checking out:

Bravo for Etsy, but Its Paid Parental Leave Policy Really Shouldn't Be Exceptional, Inc.com, by Jessica Stillman, @EntryLevelRebel, March 16, 2016.

— I always appreciate Stillman’s perspective --she has a good eye for the meaning behind the stories she reports. Here she shows us the big picture of parental leave in the USA and globally.

These Are the Companies With the Best Parental Leave Policies, Time.com, by Alicia Adamczyk, Nov. 4, 2015.   

--  Do you wonder what it would be like to work at Netflix and actually TAKE your unlimited parental leave? I do.

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