BUSINESS
04/14/2016 11:31 am ET Updated Apr 14, 2016

The End Of Maternity Leave As We Know It?

And you should feel fine.

Another big company just effectively got rid of “maternity leave," making its parental leave policy the same for men and women.

Consulting firm Ernst & Young announced this week that starting July 1, mothers and fathers would both be eligible for 16 weeks paid time off after the arrival of a child through birth, adoption, surrogacy, foster care or legal guardianship.

EY’s current leave policy is already fairly generous -- but it privileges birth mothers, who get 12 weeks leave or twice as much time off as adoptive parents and dads. The company said that about 1,200 employees take parental leave each year, about half men.

By essentially eliminating the distinction between maternity and paternity leave, EY is perfectly on trend -- at least among a certain group of elite employers desperately fighting to attract talent. Several tech companies have recently gender-neutralized parental leave, including Facebook (four months for moms and dads), Etsy (26 weeks), Spotify (six months) and Netflix (one year).

Mark Zuckerberg, chief executive officer and founder of Facebook Inc., right, and his wife Priscilla Chan when she was pregna
Bloomberg via Getty Images
Mark Zuckerberg, chief executive officer and founder of Facebook Inc., right, and his wife Priscilla Chan when she was pregnant. Zuckerberg himself recently took off two of the four months his company offers to new parents, regardless of gender.

Public policy on parental leave -- what little exists -- also makes no distinction between maternity and paternity leave. New York State recently passed a new, gender-neutral paid leave law, for example. And the national Federal Medical Leave Act, currently the only nationwide parental leave policy, gives workers 12 unpaid weeks off to take care of a child or tend to a sick relative, regardless of gender.

Yet, giving women or so-called “primary caretakers” more leave is still the norm among the few employers that provide parental leave. This probably isn’t doing women any long-term good at work or at home. Indeed, it might help give men an edge as more desirable employees -- who won’t take much time away from work. It also puts more of a burden on women at home, where it's assumed they'll take on more caregiving.

“The idea of giving women more parental leave than men is based on a sex stereotype that women should be home and men at work,” Peter Romer-Friedman, deputy director of litigation at the Washington Lawyers' Committee for Civil Rights, told The Huffington Post recently.

It is unlawful to give women more leave to take care of their children, he said, citing the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. The only disparity in leave that can be justified, Romer-Friedman said, is the amount of time it takes a woman to recover from childbirth -- generally six weeks.

In a press release, EY said it’s the first in the consulting industry to “equalize parental leave benefits,” a claim that Fortune fact-checked on Wednesday and seems likely true.

The other consulting outfits also offer generous packages, but typically birth mothers get more time off.

At Accenture, birth moms get 16 weeks and all other primary caregivers get eight, according to Fortune. At IBM, birth moms get 14 weeks paid leave, fathers and adoptive parents get six weeks. Many of the consulting firms make a distinction between "primary" and "secondary" caregivers that seems anachronistic in 2016, when most couples are dual-income and responsibilities are shared relatively equally at home.

“Companies that view parental leave as something solely for mothers are becoming extinct, as more modern and enlightened companies are realizing that many people, especially millennials, are even more interested in co-parenting given most are part of dual career couples,” said Karyn Twaronite, EY global diversity and inclusiveness officer.

This post has been updated with a statement from Ernst & Young.

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