Netflix Maternity Leave And The Freedom To Choose

Yesterday, Netflix announced an extremely generous policy for employees who wish to take maternity or paternity leave. This is the kind of news that makes national headlines. It is something most people (eventually) deal with, and most people implicitly know first-hand and/or understand that our current system places unduly burdens on women who are expecting or raising young children.

Almost a year ago, companies like Apple and Facebook announced programs to help female employees “freeze” their eggs. On the surface, very forward-thinking, and can help women liberate from the age-factor of when they can have children. The implicit message, however, may be more complicated. It could say “put this off for a while, you have control now and focus on work now.” The Netflix message is more straight-forward: “We are loyal to you. We don’t care when you have a kid. We don’t care if you’re a man or woman. Have your kid, take the time, and come back when you’re ready.”

This is another example in the underrated operational brilliance by Reed Hastings. Rather than pocket profits (and Netflix has been on a tear for years), the company is reinvesting it in not only their employees, but their families at large. Sure, it has a good PR and employee retention benefit, but it puts choice back in the hands of employees in a way that subsidized egg-freezing programs do not.

Just a few days ago, Facebook’s CEO Zuckerberg made a personal announcement on his page that he and his wife are expecting a baby girl (girls are the best, but I’m biased!), and in doing so mentioned their struggles with miscarriage. It is a difficult topic to discuss openly. Miscarriage is just one pregnancy-related stress people don’t discuss, but there’s also general fertility issues, fertility treatments (which can be brutal on the woman), the stress of adoption processes.

As companies like Netflix profit from their operational excellence, it is refreshing to see one company take that profit and reinvest it a policy of human excellence. It is leadership by example. Not many companies can pull that off, but perhaps this is one step in a cultural shift triggered by a war for employee talent and retention in and around the tech industry.

Let’s not forget most of the federal and state policies and rules in place nationwide were originally created by men. It reminds me of my first job out of college — I wanted to go to law school. I worked for the Manhattan DA’s Office, it was awesome. Bob Morgentheau was a legal genius. My boss was a great person. I remember when I went through the dockets, I had to read some pretty gruesome cases, especially ones involving unimaginable sexual assaults. These perpetrators would appeal their sentences (of course), and then I noticed the New York laws called for 7-15 years for crimes like 1st degree rape. WTF?

I remember asking my boss, naively, “How could it be 7 years, and then up for parole, for this!?”

I’ll never forget his answer: “Those laws were usually written by men.”