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Sept. 22, 2020, 11:49 a.m.
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LINK:  ➚   |   Posted by: Laura Hazard Owen   |   September 22, 2020

Companies don’t have to be big for their parental leave policies to be competitive.

The Poynter Institute for Media Studies now offers six months of parental leave to birth parents and four months for non–birth parents, the company announced this week. That means the nonprofit — which has around 50 employees — is offering more time off to new parents than much larger companies, like The New York Times (18 weeks for birth parents), The Wall Street Journal (20 weeks for primary caregivers), and The Washington Post (20 weeks). The 19th, the nonprofit gender and politics news site launched by Emily Ramshaw and Amanda Zamora earlier this year, also offers parents six months of paid leave. (Bloomberg is the most generous in the U.S. media industry, offering 26 weeks of paid leave to primary caregivers.)

As is irritatingly common with U.S. parental leave policies (this is, after all, the only rich country that mandates no paid leave at all), you’ll have to delve into the actual parental leave policy to see what exactly is on offer — it’s not six months of fully paid time: Poynter employees are required to use PTO if they want more than 12 weeks of company-paid leave; “once PTO is exhausted, if the employee wishes to remain on parental leave, Poynter will pay 50% gross earnings up to 8 weeks.” The policy also applies only to full-time employees who’ve been with Poynter for at least a year.

Still, kudos, again, to Poynter for actually making its detailed policy public. That’s something that few companies do. (I’ve asked Poynter if its new parental leave policy also applies to employees of the Tampa Bay Times, the paper it owns, and will update this post when I hear back.)

Mel Grau, a senior product specialist at Poynter and editor of The Cohort, Poynter’s newsletter for women in digital media, wrote about the tortuous path to a new leave policy.

In the past, Poynter, like many small nonprofits across sectors, offered a combination of short-term disability and flexibility with employees’ paid time off to provide time off with pay for new parents.

Our old plan didn’t apply to partners or adoptive parents. It relied too heavily on manager discretion. And the six to eight weeks of short-term disability simply wasn’t long enough, according to findings from multiple U.S. and international studies.

In the fall of 2019, I expressed to HR my dissatisfaction and belief that Poynter needed a new policy. I learned that others had tried and failed in the past; I was encouraged not to get my hopes up.

Instead, I was even more inspired to challenge the status quo.

So I brought the topic up with senior leaders whom I knew publicly supported women’s advancement. I informally surveyed a dozen or so colleagues about their opinions on the policy and asked them to join a future committee on the issue. Over the winter holidays, I compiled and shared research. In January, I casually brought it up to women on our National Advisory Board, one of whom was Emily Ramshaw, who made waves by offering six months of paid family leave to employees when she launched The 19th.

A few of my colleagues also initiated conversations about paid leave with NAB members. That led to an emotional, feet-to-the-fire discussion with the industry leaders who make up our advisory board and all Poynter staff, including the chairman of the board. The outcome? Three days after that meeting, Poynter president Neil Brown committed to establishing a more robust parental leave policy in 2020.

The winding path to get there isn’t uncommon. Grau previously reported on how it took nearly two years for women at The Boston Globe to get a better parental leave policy. In 2017, Katherine Goldstein wrote for Nieman Reports about how women at The New York Times got a better parental leave policy after fighting for about a year.

“If Poynter, a small nonprofit organization that’s been around for 45 years, can figure out how to pay for and accommodate six months of leave,” Grau wrote, “I believe your organization can, too.”

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