Karyn Twaronite, Ernst & Young America’s inclusiveness officer, recently found herself chatting at a company cocktail party with a group that included three soon-to-be dads in their early 30s.
Since it’s part of her job, she asked if they were going to take paternity leave. “Of course,” they all said — a response that she wouldn’t likely have gotten 10 years ago.
“It’s no longer an issue of ‘if’ men are going to take paternity leave,” Twaronite tells Business Insider of EY’s corporate culture, “but of ‘how long.'”
Paid paternity leave has been a hot topic lately, especially after President Obama advocated for flexible workplaces and paid family leave programs at the White House Summit on Working Families last week.
Research shows that the majority of fathers believe all companies should offer some form of paid leave for them to spend time with their newborns, but only a small percentage of American companies — 14% according to the Families and Work Institute — currently offer paid paternity leave.
That might change. With more Gen Xers and millennials starting their families and expecting more flexibility from employers, Twaronite says she’s seen a cultural shift in the past decade or so.
Ernst & Young introduced its paternity leave policy 12 years ago. The accounting giant offers two weeks of paid leave to all new fathers, and up to six weeks for fathers acting as the primary caregiver.
While tech companies like Facebook and Yahoo have attracted attention in the past few years for offering extremely generous paid paternity leaves — four months and two months, respectively — EY started offering the benefit long before there was a public demand for it.
“There were some who thought it was silly and that there would be no participation,” Twaronite says. It started as a perk that many men were happy to take, but today it is seen as an essential benefit, she says.
EY doesn’t offer paternity leave simply for the sake of being progressive. It firmly believes that it helps with employee retention, saving money on rehires and increasing engagement, Twaronite explains. Between 500 and 600 EY employees take advantage of paternity leave each year.
A recent report called “The New Dad,” which is the fifth annual study of working fathers by Boston College’s Center for Work & Family (CWF) and is sponsored by EY, shows an increasing trend in professional men wanting paid paternity leave.
The CWF surveyed 1,029 fathers at 286 companies. While it’s important to note that 58% of respondents came from the CWF’s network of companies, meaning most were highly educated professionals at companies with progressive benefits, the report shows that most men will take paid paternity leave if it is offered and will take the maximum amount of time offered.
Eighty-six per cent of fathers said they would take time off if they received at least 70% of their salary, and 91% said they would have taken more time with their families if paid leave had been available when their children were born.
A full 99% of those surveyed said companies should offer paid paternity leave, at an average of two to four weeks. Additionally, 95% said workplace flexibility was essential to managing their work-life balance.
Twaronite says that the trend of more Gen X and millennial employees replacing Boomers is largely responsible for the recent embrace of paternity leave. These younger generations are more aware of studies showing the psychological importance of bonding with infants and don’t want to be absent fathers.
An EY study from last year found that both generations rated workplace flexibility as more important than other benefits. This finding is consistent with the CWF’s report, which found that both generations took more time off in paid paternity leave than Baby Boomer fathers.
“Our only asset is our people,” Twaronite says of EY. “We don’t manufacture a product.”
She says that internal surveys have shown an increase in employee retention over the past decade, and believes it’s fair to draw the conclusion that offering more flexible benefits like paid paternity leave for dads has significantly contributed to it. “We want our employees to work with us longer, so we try to stay ahead of trends.”
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