Netflix’s New Policy Is A Step In The Right Direction, No Matter How Small

Last week, online streaming (and DVD delivery) company, Netflix, announced a new maternity and paternity leave policy that has been a long time coming. I don’t mean a long time coming for Netflix, I mean a long time coming in this country. They are offering new parents unlimited paid leave for the first year after the birth or adoption of a child. First of all, paid leave is phenomenal. Paid leave for a year is something I can’t even imagine. So many parents cut their leave short or don’t take a leave because they simply can’t afford to be out that additional paycheck. Even more impressive, this extends to parents that have adopted their babies. That first year in any child’s life is monumental, regardless of how the parents came to be parents.

Taking a step back (I’d say stepping into space if we could both read policies from there and breath properly without helmets and suits) and looking at America’s maternity/paternity leave policy in comparison to companies in Europe, we fall woefully behind. During the births of each of my two children I worked at jobs that allowed me 12 weeks of unpaid leave. Not a day more than what the Family and Medical Leave Act required. While working at one job, I took exactly 12 weeks, but our household was significantly tighter financially. To make up for it, when I returned to work, I felt like I had to ask for the maximum amount of hours just to catch up. With my second, I returned to work early in order to maintain my position. Bruce Elliott, manager of compensation and benefits for the Society for Human Resources Management, told The Denver Post that European countries have made it a mandate that parents be allowed several months of paid maternity leave. It looks like Netflix is taking measures to lessen that gap.

Surprisingly, instead of being commended for this step in the right direction, Netflix has been criticized for this reason. The movie streaming company is nitpicked for coming out with a beneficial and necessary policy that should be, but currently isn’t, the norm. There are other reasons that Netflix is taking some criticism, however. Cheif among them is that this new policy does not extend to part time employees in their DVD distribution centers. Part time employees are no less important than full time employees, especially as it pertains to child rearing.

Netflix workers sort DVDs at the company's Piscataway, New Jersey, distribution center. Distribution Center Workers are not eligible for year long padi maternity leave. Photo credit: Marine Laouchez | AFP | Getty Images

That leads to a bigger question: did Netflix offer this policy to it’s full time employees because they thought it would be little taken advantage of? According to The Guardian, 26 percent of those working in computing today are women, down from 35 percent in 1990. In addition to that, tech jobs in Silicon Valley are made to be very competitive. Tech companies, like Netflix, want the brightest employees. Likewise, employees want the best employer. With that ideal comes a feeling of inadequacy or not measuring up if any leave is taken. Employees want to maintain their jobs, so they have to be the best. To be the best, they need to be present as much as possible. Critics of Netflix’s new policy are saying that these are the reasons they offered it: that because employees don’t want to miss out on opportunities for advancement and because there are few people currently in this field that would take advantage of this new policy, Netflix was taking no risk.

This, in my very humble opinion, is the wrong mentality. It’s all conjecture. Netflix has offered an extremely beneficial and flexible plan for new parents. It should be the standard, not the exception. Netflix should be applauded. So, Netflix, I applaud you. I thank you or offering this opportunity for parents, it will be welcomed. Here’s to hoping you extend it to distribution employees in some form in the future.

No matter how small the step is, it’s at least in the right direction. Netflix could be a vehicle for change that should be welcomed wholeheartedly.

[Photo Credit: Ryan Anson/AFP/Getty Images]