In 2013, Alison Morra was only two months into her career at Inkhouse public relations agency before learning she was pregnant. She was excited and nervous, but the pregnancy never came to be. And because Morra was so new to the company, she said, she didn’t say anything to her boss about the miscarriage or needing time off to process the grief.
“I grew up with the mentality that work was work and your private life was private and those two things shouldn’t mix,” she said in an email. “Knowing what I know now, it seems crazy I wouldn’t have said something or taken time off, but I was trying to prove to the company that hiring me was a good choice.”
Morra, who is currently a mom and now chief operations officer at Inkhouse, has worked to introduce new company policy aimed at those who have faced a similar experience. As of last week, Inkhouse now offers two weeks of paid leave to all regular, full-time employees who experience miscarriage or pregnancy loss within the first 20 weeks. After that, the company’s standard parental leave policy kicks in, which was recently updated to offer 20 weeks of paid parental leave.
Paid leave for pregnancy loss is just one of the new employee benefits the company rolled out this year aimed to improve employee work-life balance. In addition, Inkhouse employees have every other Friday off with unlimited vacation and are entitled to a six-week sabbatical once they’ve been with the company for 10 years.
“What’s good for people is good for business and the more companies recognize this, the more they will do to keep their employees, particularly women, in the workforce,” Morra said.
Since the onset of the pandemic, there has been a renewed interest in work-life balance and gender inclusivity that has led companies across industries to roll out more robust family leave policies. Beginning this year, companies like Inkhouse and even Pinterest have created new policies aimed at parents experiencing miscarriage or pregnancy loss. Jennifer Bett Communications, a New York City-based PR firm, put in motion something similar to prevent burnout for working moms, as previously reported by Digiday.
“We know that our people do their best work when they feel seen and supported, and we wanted to be there for them throughout life’s biggest milestones — including all paths and stages of parenthood,” said Alice Vichaita, head of global benefits at Pinterest via email.
With the new policy, Pinterest has extended company benefits to provide four weeks of paid leave for pregnancy loss in addition to setting a global company standard for both In vitro fertilisation (IVF) and egg freezing. The social media platform has also introduced at least 20 weeks of paid parental leave, 12 weeks of paid leave for parents with newborns in the neonatal intensive care unit (NICU), and 20 weeks and up to $10,000 for adoptive parents globally.
When it comes to paid family leave, the U.S. lags behind other countries, not offering guaranteed paid parental leave at the national level, per data from the World Policy Analysis Center.
Recently, Democrat-backed legislation allowing Americans to receive paid leave time after pregnancy or related child loss was introduced last July. President Joe Biden’s Build Back Better plan included language around universal paid leave, but the program has since hit a wall, leaving the decision making up to corporations.
The advertising industry itself has notoriously been behind when it comes to paid parental leave. In 2020, Digiday research showed that just two-thirds of agency employees noted their agencies offered maternity leave. That same research showed that less than half of those employees reported their shops also give paid leave to new fathers. However, in order to gain and retain talent, a number of agencies have taken aim at reshaping those policies.
If the last two years have taught this industry nothing else, it’s a broader understanding of employee health and wellness, said Marla Kaplowitz, president and CEO of the 4A’s.
“We’re not unilaterally one type of person. We’re multi-dimensional and there are different components based on your gender,” Kaplowitz said. “These are policies [agencies and companies] need to start thinking about.”
Per Vichaita, Pinterest is constantly watching the industry, looking for ways to improve company benefits and remain competitive. This latest initiative stems from conversations company leadership has had with employees, “even if that means going above and beyond usual benefit norms,” Vichaita said.
“This includes coverage and support for the often lesser-talked about but no-less challenging complications that come with childbirth and parenting,” she added. “Maintaining a healthy workforce means engaging employees on their unique needs, and helping them grow and develop within a positive, supportive workplace.”
In the future, Morra hopes more companies will continue to make space for women to bring their whole selves to work, she said.
“It’s not a weakness to take time off, it’s not a weakness to have a child pop onto Zoom during a conference call and it’s ok to not have it all together,” she said. “It’s imperative that we meet women where they are in their personal lives in order to retain them for the future.”