Originally posted on LinkedIn.
“Better learn balance. Balance is key.” - Mr. Miyagi (character in the movie “Karate Kid”)
I recently returned from the second and final part of my paternity leave—time I spent in the Netherlands with my expanded family. The experience of welcoming a third child in a culture of equality has been an eye-opening one and an important leadership lesson.
Learnings from the past
Six years ago, we moved from Amsterdam to New York City where I took on a new role leading Accenture’s global social media efforts. My wife Steffanie and I soon welcomed our second daughter as we made this city our new home. That first year was intense, with the move, settling in at work and at home and the arrival of our baby with a toddler running around. We did what we do well—work, grit, and enjoy the ride. Looking back, there was a smarter approach. One based on more intelligent planning, giving me the opportunity to spend more time at home to help when my family needed me most.
Around the time we learned about my wife’s pregnancy with our third, my eyes were opened by a few male colleagues who took paternity leave to spend significant time at home with their loved ones after birth. Life-changing as these moments are, it was obvious these first weeks were much better spent at home than at the office. Not just for them, but for their wives and newborns as well. It’s also good for the business—a colleague who would rather be elsewhere will not drive high performance.
A culture of equality starts at the top
Paternity leave benefits extend beyond the family. In an engaging conversation with Ellyn Shook, our Chief Human Resources and Leadership Officer, she explained to me the importance of these benefits to all our people.
We all know and understand the importance of mothers spending time and being close to their newborns. What’s less known is the importance of fathers doing the same. Just like mothers, fathers also need time to bond with their children. Equally important, and game changing in the quest for equal opportunity, is the fact that implementing maternity leave alone can actually hold women back from career progression. But when companies encourage parental leave, the negative impact on women’s career advancement is eliminated.
Research further illustrates that paternity leave helps to level the playing field for women. Accenture’s report, When She Rises, We All Rise, uncovers the drivers of creating a workplace culture in which everyone—women and men alike—can advance and thrive. It shows that instituting family-friendly practices that support both genders, such as extended parental leave, is one key way to close the gender gap in career advancement and pay.
Accenture offers up to 16 weeks of paid maternity leave for birth mothers in the U.S., as well as up to eight weeks of paid time off for other primary caregivers and two weeks of paid time off for secondary caregivers, including adoptive parents and parents using a surrogate. This is part of the company’s ongoing commitment to providing attractive career opportunities for its people at all stages of their lives.
To me, this goes hand-in-hand with another element that is equally important—culture. In that intangible fabric of an organization, one has to feel they can make decisions that are important to them. If the policies are out there but they are not lived by, it’s harder to take that step. This goes beyond paternity leave. My most important need was flexibility: being able to plan my time at the office a bit differently so I could help when needed and spend time at home when important.
Sam Jonah Possel is now 3 months old. My time at home has been very meaningful. The ability to balance work and life at this time is crucial; I get flexibility and Accenture gets a happier, more engaged colleague in return. In addition, this time has helped me to become a better leader, giving further insight into how to build engaged teams and a truly human organization.
The most important benefit for me was flexibility. Accenture has always focused on the work, the contributions. This is especially important when you are a young expat family of five without a true support network in terms of family close by. In addition to the care for the newborn and the recovery of my wife, my daughters have places to go, people to meet. In all this, it was very important to have the ability to manage my agenda with my family’s needs in mind.
For us, this meant the ability to bring our two daughters to school most days of the past two months. In true Dutch fashion, we got on our bikes each morning and pedaled a few blocks, dropping off the youngest first, the oldest after, and heading to work from there. We chatted, laughed, made pictures—I looked forward to it each morning. The time I “lost” in the morning, was easily recovered in the evenings when the kids were sound asleep.
Jort and daughter
Secondly, it was the terrific parental leave opportunity. There is a lot of support from managers and colleagues to truly take the time needed. Anyone with children knows, this time is magical—enjoying all the firsts in a new family setting. I had the flexibility to split my paternity leave into two stages. I took some time right after the birth of our son. I went back to work for about a month, and then my family took off to the Netherlands to have Sam meet family and friends. Having the ability to do that, at the time it mattered most, is what it is all about.
My key take-away: It works. It’s a win-win. I’m hopeful that paternity leave becomes more viable across the business world.
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