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Allison O'Kelly Headshot

Let's Just Recognize a Good Thing for What It Is

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Trying to follow news out of the Yahoo camp is like watching a singles tennis match at Wimbledon, constantly following the ball from one side of the court to the other. This week, Yahoo's latest announcement is that it is doubling the amount of paid maternity and paternity leave the tech company offers new parents. Mothers can take 16 weeks of paid leave with benefits, and fathers can take up to eight weeks, each time they have a new child via childbirth. Both parents receive eight weeks of paid leave for new children via adoption, foster child placement or surrogacy.

A month earlier, Marissa Mayer and her team drew criticism from many, including myself, about the elimination of its telecommuting program noting that it is shortsighted from a business perspective and devastating to internal morale. This was after Mayer's own two-week maternity leave riled the pundits and advocates for not setting a good example for workplace motherhood. And before that, she announced the addition of new employee perks such as free food and more "collaborative and cool" work spaces to boost productivity and good will. It has been a veritable tsunami of information relevant to a very small number of people in the grand scheme.

But while news like this may pertain to a finite group of professionals, we often consider the actions of a major U.S. corporation as a sort of pulse meter on the general current state of things -- for the good and the bad. Yahoo's announcement of its new maternity/paternity policies isn't a defining moment for the company, nor is it something that will stay in the news cycle for more than 48 hours. But it is a good thing. It is a step in the right direction for Yahoo internally, and it advances the necessary conversation around employee-focused workplaces.

We should expect companies such as Yahoo and its Silicon Valley counterparts to drive innovation in ways other than technology. Progressive workplaces are better for the bottom line, better for employee retention, and better for fostering new ideas. The organizations recognizing these facts and working toward the implementation of programs that work in tandem with a changing workforce, should at least be acknowledged for their effort. But that really isn't what is happening here.

There is no denying that becoming a parent is a significant life change, and that parents make up a large sector of the workforce. Companies that are helping ease that transition will benefit from the loyalty that brings from employees. But so many of the comments I'm reading about Yahoo's announcement are expressing inequality and discrimination for employees without children. Given that each person within a company is different with varying needs and preferences (that change, by the way), it is impossible for every program to address the requirements of every employee.

Instead, employees that might not benefit directly and for the moment from a family policy like this one can focus on advocating for programs and policies that may be more geared to a different or expanded employee population. Perhaps employees with a 45+ minute commute can shift their workday by two hours to avoid rush hour on either end of the day. Or leaders can implement a different paid leave schedule for employees with eldercare responsibilities.

Yahoo is working to right a very big ship, and while some ideas have gone against the grain of what appears to be a strategic best practice, it does deserve to be acknowledged for something that it can build upon as a positive.