Estée Lauder Leads The Pack With Family-Friendly Paid Leave Policy

"It’s unfortunate because we are losing our best leaders to caregiving, yet caregiving qualities make the best leaders today."

As beauty brands work to break free from the superficial standards that once dominated the industry, those at the top of their game continue to lead through actions, not just words. Estée Lauder's family-friendly paid leave policy, in particular, indicates that the company values people over profits as it moves to implement one of the most expansive benefits packages to date. 

Launched last Tuesday, Estée Lauder employees in the U.S. who choose to have, foster, or adopt a child will now get 20 weeks of paid leave regardless of sex, gender, and sexual orientation. Employees can also now seek up to $10,000 for adoption fees. The company will continue to offer up to $20,000 per year toward fertility treatments, as well as child or elder care at a reduced rate to eligible workers. Both hourly and salaried employees are eligible, as long as they work at least 30 hours per week and have been with the company at least three months.

"Family is important to us. We started as a family company more than 70 years ago, and today, we continue to demonstrate our philosophy of being family-first through an array of benefits that support the diverse needs of our employees," Michael O'Hare, executive vice president, global human resources, said in a press release. "We believe providing an abundance of options to our employees will help them thrive inside and outside of work."

In addition, Estée Lauder has also established a back-to-work transition program for new parents. As part of this six-week program, the company will give parents flexibility on where and when they work. Thus, new parents can opt to work from home or alter their schedule if the traditional 9 to 5 timeframe doesn't suit their needs.

"We're seeing a general shift away from focusing on more traditional benefits, like medical and dental," Latricia Parker, Estée Lauder's executive director of global benefits, told Business Insider. "Now, it's all about the individual, rather than employers dictating what's right for them. Employees want to understand the options available to them ... We [Estée Lauder] don't want to dictate what their families should look like."

"We recognize that all employees are different, their needs are different, their work-life balance is different, and we want to give our employees choices that allow them to pick the benefit that works best for them wherever they may be in life — whether they are starting or growing a family, taking care of a loved one, or investing in their career growth and development," she added.

Of course, the United States remains the only developed country among 41 nations that doesn't offer any paid parental leave, according to the Pew Research Center, making it incredibly difficult for many new parents to balance the demands of both work and family life. While American parents rely heavily on the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA), which allows both mothers and fathers to take up to 12 weeks of unpaid leave without penalty in pay or position, one in four women go back to work two weeks after giving birth because they can't afford to take time off, thereby perpetuating many of the child-rearing struggles that are distinctly female.

"There are two big issues that women face," Shelly Zalis, CEO of The Female Quotient, writes for Forbes. "The first is work-life balance and the second is hiring bias. Think about what may potentially go through a hiring manager's mind when interviewing a woman of child-bearing age versus a man: 1. She will be out for a few months and he won't be able to replace her. 2. She won't be able to work late hours. 3. She won't be able to travel as much. Who would you choose? As a hiring manager with time, money and resources in mind, I would probably choose the man. Is this an unconscious bias or conscious?"

"It's unfortunate because we are losing our best leaders to caregiving, yet caregiving qualities make the best leaders today," Zalis adds. "Let's not underestimate the power of caregiver traits, which include being nurturing, passionate and empathetic."

Paid leave policies, such as Estée Lauder's, empowers caregivers of any gender to take advantage of time away from the office, which ultimately supports a necessary shift in perception. While most consider caregiving as stereotypically female, encouraging men to take the same leave promotes equal division of said responsibilities. In fact, Ernst & Young's global generational survey, specifically states that 83 percent of American millennials would be more likely to join a company offering such benefits, as they are strong supporters of gender equality in the home and at the office.

Breaking down gender roles also combats pay inequity because, when caregiving responsibilities fall solely on women, this time outside the workforce only widens the gender pay gap even further. And, in a world where leaders supposedly support family values above all else, government policies and public perception only seem to punish those who wish to have children or care for elderly parents. If Washington won't enact a nationwide policy that supports paid leave for all, individual companies should follow Estée Lauder's sweeping example by creating flexible policies of their own. Only then will we be able to guarantee a better, brighter future for the generations to come.

Cover image via Daria Shevtsova/ Pexels

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