Shift in Parental Leave Policies Creating Stronger Work Environment in Metro

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DES MOINES, Iowa -- Under the Family Medical and Leave Act parents can take off 12 unpaid weeks of work after the birth of a child. For some families, they can't afford to do that but the time they can afford to take off often isn't enough. The metro is seeing a shift in parental leave policies.

In early 2019, the Girl Scouts of Greater Iowa implemented a first of its kind "Infants at Work" program. Through the program, employees can bring their babies to work for another three months after returning from parental leave. The idea is taking off with corporations nationwide.

"You change the world by changing the process and so now we have a new process and we get to go out into the world and say 'here`s what`s working and here`s why it's great,'" says the Girl Scouts of Greater Iowa CEO, Beth Shelton.

Shelton has introduced the idea to at least 100 organizations nationwide since the start of the year.

"When we are in the middle of an all-staff meeting and I'm saying here let me hold your baby and let her burp up on me. That`s real. That`s when you say believe my workplace when they say they care and support me. That`s what we're trying to do," explains Shelton.

Since the beginning of the program, she says the office hasn't been at full staff yet productive, is strong, and margins are being met. Shelton says that speaks volumes.

"It's those kinds of things that can help move the needle even in cooperate America. It's because we are recognizing the human element of the workplace, family-friendly practices and that`s really what people want today."

A family-friendly policy is what allowed Sean Conlon four months with newborn son Leo. Conlon works for Wells Fargo and received 16 weeks of fully paid parental leave.

"It's important to be involved. I've been blessed to have a great father and had positive role models in my life. One thing that is common about all of them is that they were there," he says.

Studies show the importance of paternity leave, for the father and the child long term. For most, paternity leave is unpaid, forcing dads to use up vacation and sick time if they can afford to.  In a Boston College study, it shows on average new dads feel comfortable taking off about two weeks but many say peer pressure from colleagues prevents them from taking off as much time as they'd really like to.

National dad campaigns are helping to ease that pressure. Celebrities and diaper brands are celebrating dads and companies are taking note.

"We do hear it many times as we are interviewing candidates that they want to be part of our organization because they want the great benefits and the parental leave policy is one of the unique benefits that we provide," says region bank president of Wells Fargo, Marta Codina. Since Wells Fargo implemented four months of paid leave for moms and dads four years ago, 30,000 employees nationwide have taken advantage of it.  A policy Conlon says hasn't only benefited him as a dad but has made him a better employee.

"You're viewing things through a different lens so coming back to work I think I had a lot more empathy for the people I work with. I saw them in a different light."

Iowa has some catching up to do when it comes to extensive parental leave. Washington D.C., California, New Jersey, New York, and Washington state all have paid family leave programs.

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